Perseid Meteor 'Outburst' Could Be Awesome
All predictions suggest there's going to be a spectacular meteor shower, so get outside and look up!
It's that time of the year when dust from Comet Swift-Tuttle rains down on our atmosphere, producing the famous Perseid Meteor Shower.
The shower, which peaks around Aug. 12 every year, rarely disappoints and is known to generate its fair share of bright meteors, colloquially known as "shooting stars." The Perseids are a favorite among amateur astronomers, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere as the warmer nights and (if you're lucky) clear summer skies allow comfortable and extended viewing sessions.
Also, as with every meteor shower, no specialist equipment is needed. You just need a comfortable spot, warm clothes (yes, even in the summer, as sitting and lying still for long periods can sap body heat) and patience.
But this year holds some extra excitement -- there's going to be an outburst... probably.
As a comet orbits the sun, it deposits ice and dust particles as a trail through interplanetary space called a meteor stream. You can imagine these streams as the contrail produced by aircraft; meteor streams trace out the paths the comets have taken during their various orbital circuits. Every year at around this time, the Earth passes into Comet Swift-Tuttle's dusty trail.
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Over the tens to hundreds to thousands of years after being deposited in space, these meteor streams are influenced by the gravities of the planets (particularly Jupiter) and it just so happens that this year, three different meteor streams are coinciding as Earth orbits through them.
"This year Jupiter's influence has moved the 1079, 1479, and 1862 streams closer to Earth, so all forecasters are projecting a Perseid outburst with double double normal rates on the night of August 11-12," Bill Cooke, Head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, told EarthSky.org.
So what does this mean for us? It could mean that we see up to 200 meteors per hour. But these are meteors and just because there's a statistically higher chance of seeing more meteors than usual, it's by no means a sure bet. Still, the models strongly suggest there will be an outburst, so don't miss it -- get outside and watch for those streaks of light.
Though the peak is likely to be observed from the night of Aug. 11 to the pre-dawn morning of Aug. 12, it's worth taking a look tonight (Aug. 10) as activity will be picking up. Just go outside, look for the Perseid "radiant" (the location in the sky the meteors appear to originate), which is the constellation of Perseus and get comfortable.
#MeteorWatch: Join a Global Meteor Community!
Want to find out more about the Perseids and chat with astronomy amateurs and professionals? Be sure to follow #MeteorWatch on Twitter and across other social media platforms to join in!
"The Perseid Meteor Shower will be at its most active over the next few days and I will be doing my yearly #MeteorWatch for it," Adrian West (@VirtualAstro), astronomer and organizer of the MeteorWatch.org website, told Discovery News. "I'm trying my best to make astronomy more popular and accessible and the Perseids are always a winner."
#MeteorWatch is hugely popular as you can track the number of meteors you see and report them on Twitter. The MeteorWatch.org map then logs your sightings and you can compare your experience with other meteor enthusiasts around the world.
"The Perseids offer one of the best opportunities in getting people engaged and interested in stargazing and the night sky," West added.
The Perseids are also great if you're experimenting with a little astrophotography, so if you grab a photo you're especially proud of and want to share it with other Seeker.com readers, drop a link into the comments below or send an email to email@example.com and we'll feature.
GALLERY: The 2015 Perseid Meteor Shower -- views from our readers:
Last night (Aug. 12/13), the Perseid meteor shower peaked, putting on a show for planet Earth. While passing through the trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, our atmosphere was pummeled by the dusty debris, producing some spectacular meteors and even fireballs. Here are a few international views of this spectacular annual event. In the run-up to last night's peak, in the skies over Joshua Tree National Park, near Los Angeles, Calif., photographer and Discovery News reader Sean Parker captured several meteors over a 60 minute timelapse, composed of 180 photos. Looking north, the startrails form a circle with the occasional meteor cutting through. You can check out more of Parker's timelapse and astro-photography on his Facebook page.
The skies over California weren't all as peaceful as Joshua Tree, however. In this long-exposure photograph from the town of Clearlake, which is located north of San Francisco, photographer Stuart Palley captured this dramatic view of a Perseid meteor flash across the sky over the Jerusalem Fire which has burned tens of thousands of acres of land in Lake and Napa Counties. California is currently undergoing a historic drought, creating the perfect conditions for wildfires across the state.
Photographer Robert Raia captures a Perseid falling in the direction of the Milky Way over New Jersey.
John Entwistle (@jme1169) also spotted an impressive Perseid flash alongside the Milky Way over Jersey Shore, New Jersey.
While waiting for a Perseid meteor, this astronomer in Bulgaria uses a red light so not to interrupt his night-sensitive eyes.
A lovely Perseid meteor emerges from the city glow over Wokington, Cumbria, UK, as photographed by Twitter user @mckeatingphoto.
Clear skies in Bulgaria aided not only the viewing of the Perseids, but also an object of man-made origin. This streak is neither a meteor or aircraft, that's the International Space Station making a bright pass over the Bulgarian capital Sofia.
Twitter user @SBUX75DEVILDOG photographed a Perseid fall in the skies over Bristol, Conn.
Meanwhile, in Germany, a meteor streaks over the Pilsum Lighthouse in the town of Pilsum. The band of stars stretching overhead is the Milky Way.
Also in the clear skies over Pilsum, Germany a meteor flashes over windmills near the Pilsum Lighthouse.
A bright fireball shines blue in the Pilsum, Germany, skies. Fireballs are larger meteors that can be seen to erupt as they speed through the atmosphere. Sometimes, depending on their size and speed, a fireball "bang" can be heard on the ground.
In the Kaijiang County of Dazhou, southwest China's Sichuan Province, a Perseid meteor is seen erupting in starry skies.
Although most of southern Britain was hindered by cloudy skies, skywatchers in Patching, West Sussex, managed to catch a glimpse of the Perseids.
A faint, low Perseid as seen near Oakdale, Calif., is obscured by light pollution by a nearby town.
A meteor erupts over the Maculje archaeological site near Novi Travnik, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A Perseid over a windmill farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Republic of Macedonia.