"Long before it's in the papers"
January 28, 2015


Perseid meteor shower enlivens sky

Aug. 12, 2007
Courtesy ESA
and World Science staff

Nat­u­ral fire­works will fill the sky as the Per­se­id me­te­or show­er be­comes vis­i­ble in all its glo­ry on Aug. 13.

Show­ers of me­te­ors, or “shoot­ing stars,” ap­pear as bright streaks of light in the sky. The dis­play runs through the night in the north­ern hem­is­phere.

The Perseid shower in 1997. (Courtesy ESA)

Comets leave behind dust trails as they near the Sun. 

As Earth’s or­bit crosses the dust ejected by the com­et Swift-Tuttle, a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence eve­ry Au­gust, it pro­vides a fab­u­lous spec­ta­cle for view­ers on Earth. As the par­t­i­cles en­ter the at­mos­phere, they burn up, pro­duc­ing the fire­works. 

This phe­nom­e­non, called the Per­se­id me­te­or show­er, gets its name from the con­stella­t­ion Per­seus, from where the shoot­ing stars seem to come. 

This year the Per­se­ids are vis­i­ble from July 17 to Aug. 24. One or two me­teors per hour can be seen at the start, in­creas­ing to about five to ten per hour in early Au­gust. 

Click to enlarge

This con­stel­la­tion map (large ver­sion here) shows the con­stel­la­tion Per­seus, from where the Per­se­id me­te­or show­er can be seen aris­ing in the sky. This year, as a bo­nus, Mars is vis­i­ble as a bright red dot in the east, af­ter mid­night. (Cred­its: ESA - G. Bar­entsen)

The dis­play will be at its peak be­fore sun­rise on Aug. 13, when 80 to 100 me­te­ors should be vis­i­ble per hour, weath­er pe­rmitting.

The best time to go ob­serv­ing is dur­ing the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 13, ac­cord­ing to Eu­ro­pe­an Space Agen­cy sci­en­tists. A new Moon on Aug. 12 will make for pe­rfect ob­serv­ing con­di­tions.

Tele­scopes or bin­oc­u­lars will not be nec­es­sary as the show­er is vis­i­ble with the na­ked eye. 

It is im­por­tant to be in a dark ar­ea, with­out much smog, pol­lu­tion or il­lu­mina­t­ion. Do make your­self com­fort­a­ble – use a re­clin­ing chair or spread a blan­ket on the ground. The shoot­ing stars will ap­pear all over the sky; you need not look in a par­tic­u­lar di­rec­tion. Just make sure your eyes can adapt to the dark.

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As the Perseid meteor shower becomes visible in all its glory on 13 August, natural fireworks will fill the sky. Showers of meteors, or ‘shooting stars’, appear as bright streaks of light in the sky. The display runs through the night. Dust trails are left behind by every comet as it nears the Sun. As Earth’s orbit crosses the dust ejected by the comet Swift-Tuttle, a regular occurrence every August, it provides a fabulous spectacle for viewers on Earth. As the particles enter the atmosphere, they burn up, producing the fireworks. This phenomenon, called the ‘Perseid’ meteor shower, gets its name from the constellation Perseus, from where the shooting stars seem to come. This year the Perseids are visible from July 17 to Aug. 24. One or two per hour can be seen at the start, increasing to about five to ten per hour in early August. The display will be at its maximum before sunrise on 13 August, when 80 to 100 meteors should be visible every hour, weather permitting. The best time to go observing is during the pre-dawn hours of 13 August, according to European Space Agency scientists. The occurrence of a new Moon on 12 August will make for perfect observing conditions. Telescopes or binoculars will not be necessary as the shower is visible with the naked eye. It is important to be in a dark area, without much smog, pollution or illumination. Do make yourself comfortable – use a reclining chair or spread a blanket on the ground. The shooting stars will appear all over the sky; you need not look in a particular direction. Just make sure your eyes can adapt to dark.