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Upcoming meteor shower predicted to be better than usual

Aug. 9, 2013
Courtesy of the Royal Astronomical Society
and World Science staff

The an­nu­al Per­seids me­te­or show­er, to peak early next week, should be par­tic­u­larly good this year, as­tro­no­mers say.

Me­te­ors, pop­u­larly known as “shoot­ing stars,” are the re­sult of specks of dust shoot­ing in­to the Earth’s at­mos­phere. These heat the air around them, caus­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tic streak of light seen from the ground. 

For the Per­seids, the source of this dust is the tail of Com­et Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992.

The comet “won’t be vis­it­ing our neck of the woods again un­til the year 2125, but eve­ry year we get this beau­ti­ful re­minder as the Earth plows through the de­bris it leaves in its or­bit,” said as­tron­o­mer Al­an Fitz­sim­mons of Queen’s Uni­vers­ity Bel­fast in Ire­land. “Ev­ery me­te­or is a speck of com­et dust va­por­iz­ing as it en­ters our at­mos­phere at 36 miles per sec­ond. What a glo­ri­ous way to go.”

The show­er of me­te­ors ap­pears to ra­di­ate out­ward from a point in the con­stella­t­ion of Per­seus, hence the show­er’s name.

It’s ac­tive yearly from around July 17 to Aug. 24, though for most of that time only a few me­te­ors an hour are vis­i­ble. Peak ac­ti­vity is ex­pected the eve­nings of Aug. 11 and 12 in North Amer­i­ca and Aug. 12 to 13 on the oth­er side of the At­lan­tic, as­tro­no­mers say. The moon will be a wax­ing cres­cent so its light won’t in­ter­fere much with the view, they add.

Un­like many ce­les­tial events, me­te­or show­ers are pret­ty easy to watch. For most peo­ple, the best equip­ment to use is simply eyes. Long­time me­te­or ob­servers sug­gest wrap­ping up well and set­ting up a re­clin­ing cha­ir so you can look up in com­fort. It al­so helps to be in a dark site away from ar­ti­fi­cial light and have an un­ob­structed view of the sky.

Al­though the num­ber of vis­i­ble me­te­ors is hard to pre­dict, you can ex­pect to see one at least eve­ry few min­utes, sci­en­tists add. The me­te­ors mostly ap­pear as fleet­ing streaks of light last­ing less than a sec­ond, but the bright­est ones leave be­hind trails of va­por­ized gas­es and glow­ing air mo­le­cules that may take a few sec­onds to fade.


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The annual Perseids meteor shower, to peak early next week, should be particularly good this year, astronomers say. Meteors, popularly known as “shooting stars,” are the result of specks of dust shooting into the Earth’s atmosphere. These heat the air around them, causing the characteristic streak of light seen from the ground. For the Perseids, the source of this dust is the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992. “Comet Swift-Tuttle won’t be visiting our neck of the woods again until the year 2125, but every year we get this beautiful reminder as the Earth ploughs through the debris it leaves in its orbit,” said astronomer Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University Belfast in Ireland. “Every meteor is a speck of comet dust vaporising as it enters our atmosphere at 36 miles per second. What a glorious way to go.” The shower of meteors appears to radiate outward from a point in the constellation of Perseus, hence the shower’s name. It’s active yearly from around July 17 to Aug. 24, though for most of that time only a few meteors an hour are visible. Peak activity is expected the evenings of Aug. 11 and 12 in North America and Aug. 12 to 13 on the other side of the Atlantic, astronomers say. The moon will be a waxing crescent so its light won’t interfere much with the view, they add. Unlike many celestial events, meteor showers are pretty easy to watch. For most people, the best equipment to use is simply eyes. Longtime meteor observers suggest wrapping up well and setting up a reclining chair so you can look up in comfort. It also helps to be in a dark site away from artificial light and have an unobstructed view of the sky. Although the number of visible meteors is hard to predict, you can expect to see one at least every few minutes, scientists add. The meteors mostly appear as fleeting streaks of light lasting less than a second, but the brightest ones leave behind trails of vaporized gases and glowing air molecules that may take a few seconds to fade.