Miss any meteor shower of the year and it can be pardoned but missing the Perseid Meteor Shower would be a sin if you love astronomy! It’s time to leave aside all your work and turn your eyes up in the sky to experience the spectacular show of heavens. It’s time for the Perseid Meteor Shower.
What is Perseid Meteor Shower?
A meteor shower is a celestial event during which small meteors (shooting stars) are observed to originate or radiate from a point in space. These meteors are caused by the small rocky debris of space, called the meteoroids, entering the Earth’s atmosphere in a parallel trajectory at an extremely high speed. A meteor shower, thus, is an interaction of the Earth with the streams of debris from a comet. But what causes this stream of debris?
When a comet orbits the Sun, it produces debris by water vapour drag and by breakup. Certain amount of meteoroids are shed along the entire orbit of the comet. The parent comet of the Perseid Meteor Shower is named Swift-Tuttle. The comet, measuring 16 miles across, blitzes by Earth every 130 or so years, going about 36 miles per second (that’s 150 times faster than sound). At this size and speed, Swift-Tuttle would do some serious damage if it were, to say, ever strike the Earth. (The late astronomer Brian Marsden once predicted that ominous forecast for the year 2126—though his portentous prophecy has since been retracted.) But we’re in no such danger in 2018, when Earth rides Swift-Tuttle’s coattails from July 17 to August 24. The month-long drive-by will place Earth in the densest debris on August 12—the ideal time to gaze skyward.
The shower is so named because the part of the sky from which they radiate (called the radiant) lies in the constellation of Perseus. They are visible for more than a month between 15 July – 24 August. However, the shower peaks on the night of 11 and 12 August at an average of 70 streaks per hour. The average speed of the shower is 58 km/s.
Why This Year’s Perseid Meteor Shower Is Promising?
Thanks to the lunar cycle, the Perseid Meteor Shower coincides with the new moon on August 11 and a sharp, dim crescent Moon on August 12. On August 11, the Moon will rise and set with the Sun. Thus there will be no moon-light on the night of the new moon on August 11 and sky-gazers can relish a dark night for watching the shower. On August 12, when the shower peaks, the moon will be on the verge of setting at dusk. The crescent Moon will be long gone when the meteor shower peaks at midnight.
The Perseid meteor shower will be most visible in the Northern hemisphere—and the more of a night owl you are, the more likely you are to glimpse the comet dust, best viewed after 2 a.m. local time. Urban dwellers may be out of luck, though, due to light pollution.
Just The Meteor Shower To Watch?
Absolutely no. Look for the dazzling Venus setting in the west at sunset. Venus is the brightest object in the sky at dusk, the perfect evening star. Jupiter is a little fainter than Venus, at a greater angle than the latter. Saturn and Mars will make a guest appearance at the peak of the shower. Mars is a bright red speck in the south eastern sky when it rises. The planet made its closest approach to Earth on July 31.