There’s a new moon coming around, which is good news for viewers because it sets the stage for what will be the most spectacular meteor shower of the year: the Perseid meteor shower.
The Perseid meteor shower takes places each year from the end of July through most of August, but there’s always a peak time when we can see the most meteors pummelling our atmosphere and lighting up the night sky
That opportune time will happen this week in the wee hours of the morning at 4 am ET on Thursday, Aug. 13, according to Universe Today.
During that time, observers will be treated to between 50 to 100 meteors per hour, or about one to two per minute!
If you’re not a morning person — or a night person depending on how you look at it — you can still see at least a handful of meteors between the hours of midnight and dawn on Aug. 11, 12, 13, and 14.
The Perseids are always one of the most stunning annual meteor showers, but this year’s show will be especially beautiful because it takes place around the same time as this month’s new moon on Aug. 14.
“The nearly moonless sky this year means the viewing will be excellent,” Alan MacRobert, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope, wrote. Observers will have an almost completely dark sky with which to spot the Perseid meteors as they trace lines of white light across the night sky.
The best way to watch
The best way to watch any meteor shower is to find the darkest, clearest skies possible. That means getting as far away from city lights as you can. After that, you just need to direct your gaze skyward and enjoy the show — no special observing equipment necessary.
Unfortunately, for some across the US, cloudy conditions will prevent optimal viewing. If that’s the case for you, don’t worry: You can still watch the shower live.
NASA is offering a live broadcast beginning Aug. 12 at 10 pm ET and running through to 2 am, Aug 13. During the broadcast, NASA experts will discuss the history of the Perseids and take questions on Twitter from anyone who sends their questions to @NASA_Marshall with #askNASA in the tweet. The LiveStream is at the end of this post.
Here’s a map showing where the worst and best places in the country will be on Tuesday, Aug. 11, according to AccuWeather.com. But keep an eye out for the weather conditions as they change for your area over the course of the week.
Origins of the Perseids
Meteor showers typically come from the dusty, icy remains of comets. When a comet travels through the solar system, parts of it are blown off by the wind from the sun and left behind as the comet’s dust tail.
As Earth passes through this tail, the tiny remains collide with Earth’s atmosphere at about 130,000 mph.
This week’s Perseid meteor shower comes from the leftovers of Comet Swift-Tuttle — named for its two co-founders, Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle, who found it in 1862.
When Swift-Tuttle’s icy bits enter the atmosphere at such tremendous speeds, they rub against molecules in their, generating heat from friction. The heat grows to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and vaporizes the piece of the comet. The light we see in the sky is actually the air around the comet that is so blazing hot that it radiates light.
Though the comet was only discovered about 150 years ago, our ancestors have been witnessing the Perseid meteor shower for millennia. The first documented sighting is recorded in the Chinese annals dated to 36 AD. The encryption translates to: “more than 100 meteors flew thither in the morning.”
Comet Swift-Tuttle is about 16 miles across and takes 133 years to orbit the sun. Each time it makes its way to the inner solar system, it passes close to Earth. In fact, it’s the largest object in the solar system that makes repeated close approaches to Earth at dangerously high speeds of over 130,000 mph.
Some have gone so far as to call it the “the single most dangerous object known to humanity,” because if it collided with Earth, the results would be catastrophic. But don’t worry too much:
Astronomers predict that the next time this comet will pass uncomfortably close — about 2.7 million miles away — will be in the year 4479. And they estimate that the probability of impact is 0.0001%.
Check out the NASA broadcast starting Aug. 12 at 10 pm ET below:
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