Skywatchers prepare to enjoy the Perseid meteor shower, which this year peaks in the early morning hours of Friday and Saturday. Astronomers with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration call the Perseids one of the top 30 or so Annual meteor showers.
Perseids are characterized by Lots of fireballsExceptionally bright meteors leave streaks of light in the night sky as they burn up in the atmosphere. Under ideal viewing conditions, people can see 50 to 100 bright and colorful meteors per hour at the summit of Perseids.
The best time to see the Perseids is two to three hours before sunrise, according to Bill Cook, chief astronomer in NASA’s Office of Meteoritic Environment at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. But this year, he added: light from the full moon It will wash away the faint meteor streaks.
“The moon will reduce meteor rates to a third or a quarter of what they are in a year without a full moon,” Dr. Cook said. Even with the moonlight, he added, the Perseids family promises to be “better than any meteor shower we’ve seen so far this year.”
This month’s full moon is called a supermoon, which means a full moon that coincides with our natural moon’s closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit around our planet, according to NASA. The Incredibleswhich can occur several times a year, Look a little bigger and brighter from other full moons.
Moonlight isn’t the only thing that can come between sky watchers and a dazzling sky show. Clouds can be a problem, as can light pollution.
“Light pollution works just like moonlight,” Dr. Cook said, referring to artificial light emitted from streetlights, buildings and other sources in populated areas.
“We had much darker skies a century ago,” he said, adding that today’s sky watchers see fewer meteors than their ancestors.
Perseids can be observed every summer all over the world but are best seen in the Northern Hemisphere. The shower is named after the constellation Perseus, which is located in the region of the sky from which meteors appear.
Although they are sometimes called shooting stars, meteors are actually Fast moving ice, dust and rocks that strike Earth’s atmosphere when our planet’s path around the sun takes us through the path of comet or asteroid debris. In the case of the Perseids, the Earth is moving through the debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle, a large comet Discovered in 1862.
Pieces of this comet’s debris — which can range in size from a grain of sand to a pea — quickly smashed into the atmosphere. NASA connects 37 miles per second, or about 133,000 miles per hour. The heat from the intense friction between debris and particles in the atmosphere causes the bits to burn.
The Perseids peak occurs when the Earth moves through the densest part of the Swift-Tuttle debris path.
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To improve your Perseids view, find a dark spot away from city lights that provides an unobstructed view of the sky during the dawn hours. But meteorites should be visible any time between midnight and dawn, according to Ashley King, a research fellow at the Natural History Museum in London and an expert on meteorites.
No binoculars or telescopes are needed, as these instruments limit how much of the night sky you can see at one time. If the moon is still visible, look in another direction – and be sure to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness.
“It may take 10 to 15 minutes before you see your first one,” Dr. King said.
Write to Aylin Woodward at [email protected]
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