It’s the 12th day of August and it’s time to look up in the sky. It’s time for some fireworks. It’s time to make a wish when you see the shooting stars. It’s time for the Perseid Meteor Shower!
This year’s Perseid meteor shower is special and promising. The shower will peak just a day after the new moon. This means that the crescent moon will exit the stage shortly after the sunset, making way for the streaks later in the night. 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.
What Causes The Perseid Meteor Shower?
When a comet orbits the Sun, it produces debris by wa
ter 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Brian Marsden once predicted that ominous forecast for the year 2126—though his portentous prophecy has since been retracted.)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.