The Perseid Meteor Shower of 2019

One of the most awaited event of August is finally here. The Perseid meteor shower is set to peak on August 13. Let us learn about this event in three simple questions.

What is a meteor Shower?

A meteor shower is a celestial event in which a number of meteors appear in the sky. Meteor showers take place when Earth comes in the path of stream of debris from a comet. Each time a comet swings by the Sun in its orbit, some of its ice vaporizes and a certain amount of meteoroids will be shed. The meteoroids spread out along the entire orbit of the comet to form a meteoroid stream, also known as a "dust trail" (as opposed to a comet's "gas tail" caused by the very small particles that are quickly blown away by solar radiation pressure).

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This dust trail follows the orbit of the parent comet. When Earth passes through the orbit of this dust trail, these particles interact with the atmosphere and what we see is a spectacular show of meteors: a meteor shower.

Persied meteor shower
Illustration of Earth entering the tail of comet dust (Image: AstroBob)

What is perseids?

The Perseid meteor shower is an annual shower that peaks in August. The parent body associated with the Perseids is the comet 109P/Swift Tuttle. This comet has a highly eccentric orbit. Its orbit takes it outside that of Pluto at farthest distance and inside that of Earth at nearest distance. Swift Tuttle takes 133 years to orbit the Sun. Every time this comet passes through the inner solar system, the sun warms and softens up the ices in the comet, causing it to release fresh comet material into its orbital stream.

Every meteor shower has a point called radiant associated with it. This is the point from where all the streaks appear to originate. Although the streaks can appear anywhere in the sky, it is best to look for them near the radiant. The radiant of Perseid meteor shower lies in the constellation of Perseus, hence the name Perseid meteor shower.

Also Read: All the 30 articles of Basics of Astrophysics series

Perseid Meteor Shower 2019
Chart of constellation Perseus with arrows pointing radially outward from spot near its top. (Image: Earthsky)

How to watch perseid meteor shower?

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most prominent meteor showers. Along with Geminids in December, Perseids is the most awaited one. This year, the shower will peak on August 13. Unfortunately, the Moon will be 94% full on the night of the celestial show. Thus, fainter streaks will be washed out by the Moonlight. The Perseids are believed to produce 120-150 streaks per hour. Due to Moonlight, this number might go down but it will still be more than any other meteor shower of the year, except Geminids.

The best time to catch the shower is on August 11, before dawn. Though the peak is 2 nights later, the Moon will set before the dawn of August 11. This will leave you alone with the dark sky for some time. Make sure to look up in the sky on the nights of August 11, 12 and of course 13. There are a few rules to watch the Perseids:

  • There is no need of any telescope or binoculars to watch the Perseid meteor shower. Just find an open space in the dark.
  • Make sure there is no artificial light pollution near your viewing spot.
  • Give your eyes enough time to adapt to the darkness. It usually takes 20-30 minutes.
  • If possible, relax on a lawn chair to enjoy the show of the heavens above.
  • Good things always come to those who wait. So be patient while watching the shower. It takes time to spot them! Good luck.

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