The annual Perseid meteor shower is underway, and the show will get better as we head through the week.
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The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year as Earth passes through the trail of dust and debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. This comet orbits the sun in a much more oblong path than Earth’s orbit.
The comet last passed by Earth in 1992 and will swing by again in 2126. The meteors are made of tiny dust and other particles from the tail of the comet as it orbits around the sun. The particles, many no bigger than a grain of sand or a pea, blast across the sky at 132,000 mph and disintegrate high up in our atmosphere after making a brilliant streak of light.
Scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) say the Perseids typically will produce around 50 to 80 meteors per hour.
The problem is, this year’s peak night for the meteor shower will coincide with a nearly full moon. The moonlight will make a lot of the dimmer meteors invisible, which will lower the overall count. But don’t let that stop you from checking out the show as there still should be plenty of brighter meteors to see.
The greatest numbers of meteors will be between midnight and just before dawn on the mornings of Aug. 11-13. The meteors will originate in the northeastern sky near the constellation Perseus (thus their name). However, the meteors will streak across the sky in all directions, so it doesn’t really matter.
Just keep in mind the best viewing for meteors is as far away from the city lights as possible. You will also want to be patient.
“Be sure to be patient when looking for the meteors,” Dr. James Hackley, an optometrist with Gemini Eye Care, said. “It can take your eyes as long as 20 to 30 minutes to fully adapt to darkness after being in a normally lit room. So be sure you can at least devote an hour or more to viewing to be able to get the best show.”
If you do miss the Perseids this year, the next big meteor show will be the Leonids in November. This meteor shower has been known to produce 10 times as many of meteors as the Perseids.
The greatest meteor shower in U.S. history occurred with the Leonids on Nov. 12, 1833, with 20 to 30 meteors reported per second.