Journalist have talked breathlessly about the upcoming solar eclipse which will happen on August 21, but another fantastic astronomic event will happen this weekend. The Perseid Meteor Shower, which will see meteors streak through the night sky, will be active this weekend and present a dazzling sight for intrepid stargazers.
Some reports claim that this year’s Perseid showers will be the brightest meteor shower in recorded human history, but NASA unfortunately debunked these claims. The space agency stated that they are expecting 150 meteors per hour, which is 10 times smaller than the Leonid meteor storms of the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1833, another Leonid storm reportedly had a rate of at least tens of thousands meteors per hour.
And while NASA pointed out that this will not be the largest meteor shower ever, Scientific American observed that interested watchers may have their view obscured by the moon. The moon turned full about a week ago and remains more than half full in the sky now, foiling attempts to view meteors. An astronomer with the Royal Astronomical Society reported that viewers may only see 20 meteors per hours if they are lucky.
The Beauty of Meteors
But while viewing meteors may be more difficult this year, enterprising viewers who trek out to rural or suburban areas with less light pollution can still see some meteors. And as this event is happening right before the aforementioned solar eclipse, it serves as a reminder of other interesting astronomical phenomenon.
A meteor shower is in fact small chunks of a single, large comet falling into Earth’s atmosphere. The Perseid meteor showers come from the Swift-Tuttle comet, which visits Earth about every 130 years and last appeared in 1992. Debris from the comet breaks off and can drift in space for years before being captured by Earth’s gravity and falling into the sky. In fact, the meteors which we see almost certainly broke off from Swift-Tuttle during its 1862 visit and not the 1992 visit.
Interested viewers should find a dark, flat area where they can have a good view of the sky and be prepared to wait. The dusk of August 12 promises to be the best opportunity to see meteors, but the Perseid meteors will continue to fall through Earth’s sky up until August 24.
Even if your attempts to view the Perseid showers are stymied, do not be too disappointed. Astronomers expect these annual showers to take place during a new moon next year, meaning that the view will be much better as viewers will likely be able to see twice as many meteors as they will this year.
[Featured image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]