Return of the Perseid Meteor Shower

Robert Bigelow
Earth is about to collide with a stream of particles left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. These particles, which range in size from sand grains to pebbles, will hit Earth’s upper atmosphere at speeds of 130,000 miles per hour, and vaporize 50 miles above our heads. As they burn up, they produce the slivers of light streaking across the sky that we call the Perseid Meteor Shower, one of the most reliable meteor showers of the year.
Earth passes through this particle stream every year about August 12. This year the peak of the Perseid meteor shower is just before midnight on August 12 (MDT). Typically, an observer away from city lights might see about 60 meteors per hour. Unfortunately, this year’s shower peaks about 13 hours before the time of full moon. That means moonlight will significantly interfere with observing the shower. Next year in 2012, the peak will occur about 3 days after third quarter so moonlight will provide little interference.
Where is the best place to look? Look up. While the meteors will appear to originate from the constellation Perseus in the northeast, they can be seen all over the sky. The best time to observe the shower is from about 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. (on the morning of the 13th) when Utah is facing into the meteor stream. Early morning observers can also see the planet Jupiter. It will appear as the brightest “star” in the eastern sky. If you cannot observe during those hours, do not despair, some meteors will still be visible as soon the sky is dark.
No equipment is needed to observe, so leave the telescope at home. Meteor showers are best seen with the eyes alone, taking in as much of the sky as possible. However, a reclining lawn chair and mosquito repellant may help make the observing session more comfortable.

Earth is about to collide with a stream of particles left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. These particles, which range in size from sand grains to pebbles, will hit Earth’s upper atmosphere at speeds of 130,000 miles per hour, and vaporize 50 miles above our heads. As they burn up, they produce the slivers of light streaking across the sky that we call the Perseid Meteor Shower, one of the most reliable meteor showers of the year.

perseid meteor shower

Earth passes through this particle stream every year about August 12. This year the peak of the Perseid meteor shower is just before midnight on August 12 (MDT). Typically, an observer away from city lights might see about 60 meteors per hour. Unfortunately, this year’s shower peaks about 13 hours before the time of full moon. That means moonlight will significantly interfere with observing the shower. Next year in 2012, the peak will occur about 3 days after third quarter so moonlight will provide little interference.

Where is the best place to look? Look up. While the meteors will appear to originate from the constellation Perseus in the northeast, they can be seen all over the sky. The best time to observe the shower is from about 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. (on the morning of the 13th) when Utah is facing into the meteor stream. Early morning observers can also see the planet Jupiter. It will appear as the brightest “star” in the eastern sky. If you cannot observe during those hours, do not despair, some meteors will still be visible as soon the sky is dark.

No equipment is needed to observe, so leave the telescope at home. Meteor showers are best seen with the eyes alone, taking in as much of the sky as possible. However, a reclining lawn chair and mosquito repellant may help make the observing session more comfortable.

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