Get ready, celestial lovers, to see one of the most spectacular meteor streams of the year: the Perseids. Called the “fireball champion” by NASA, this meteor shower should occur under near-perfect conditions this week.
The Perseids will peak on the night of Saturday, August 12 through Sunday, August 13. The sky will be lit up with up to 100 meteors per hour, all originating from the Perseid meteoroids. This spectacular cosmic spectacle will be most visible from 10:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. local time.
Bill Cook, head of NASA’s Meteor Office, told Business Insider, “This year’s Perseid meteor shower will bring unique circumstances that promise an extraordinary observing experience. Compared to last year’s full moon, this year’s will be remarkable.”
The moon, which will be nearly black during the shower in its waning phase, will not obscure the Perseids. Bright trails of the meteor shower will stand out against the dark sky.
According to experienced astronomers, the two ideal places to observe this event will be on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States. However, the meteor show will not be limited to these locations, and observers from all over the world will be able to enjoy the spectacle.
The Perseids originate from the comet Swift-Tuttle
The Perseids come from debris left behind by the giant comet 109P Swift-Tuttle, which flew closest to Earth in 1992.
Every August, the Earth, as it orbits the Sun, passes through the debris left behind by this comet during its 133-year orbit in our solar system. Swift-Tuttle will make its next significant appearance near Earth in 2126.
Cook explained why this meteor shower is so exceptional: “Most other comets are much smaller, with nuclei only a few kilometers in diameter. As a result, Comet Swift-Tuttle produces a large number of meteoroids, many of which are large enough to become fireballs.”
Thousands of shooting stars
This year, Cook’s NASA science team estimates that the Perseids could reach a rate of 100 “shooting stars” per hour when observed from a dark spot in the countryside.
For the best experience, Cook recommends finding a spot away from city lights or other sources of light pollution. “Although fireballs can be seen from urban areas, a much larger number of faint Perseids can only be seen from rural areas.”
The Perseids, sometimes called the “Tears of St. Lawrence,” occurring every year around the Feast of St. Lawrence on August 10, will pierce Earth’s atmosphere at a terrifying 132,000 miles per hour, about 37 miles per second. This incredible speed causes the meteoroids to ignite into bright streaks of flame due to heated friction with the air.
“They are the largest producers of fireballs of all meteor streams”, Cook noted.
Despite their fiery appearance, the Perseids pose no threat to observers or anything else on Earth, as they almost always burn up in the atmosphere before reaching the planet’s surface.
The UK’s Royal Astronomical Society emphasizes that meteor streams such as the Perseids are best observed with the naked eye, requiring no special equipment to enjoy the view.