August 12 has already been an exciting day for anyone who enjoys reading stories about space. Let’s see, just hours before the very sun came up that will be studied, NASA launched their car-sized solar probe that will be touching the sun in a first-ever mission to study its corona. And, tonight stargazers will be treated to stellar outbursts occurring during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower 2018. An outburst is defined as when a shower of meteors contains more meteors than normal. Per NASA, the last outburst of Perseid meteors happened back in 2009.
In July, the Perseids started streaking across the night skies, and at its peak Sunday night, forecasters say that the Perseid light show will have double the normal rate of outbursts for those enjoying clear skies. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour,” according to NASA.
NASA also lets us in on the best way to watch the spectacular event. They say that the best way to see the Perseid meteor shower 2018 is to venture outdoors between midnight Sunday night and the pre-dawn hours of Monday. Lie on your back and look up. Next, you’ll need to let your eyes adjust to the dark for about 45 minutes in order to see the Perseids the best. If those hours seem a little too late for you, the Perseid outbursts can be seen in the sky at around 9 p.m. local time.
Unfortunately, for some parts of the U.S., widespread cloud cover and the heavy smoke from the wildfires burning out west will obscure the view of the Perseid meteor shower event. However, if bad weather or light-polluted skies do impede your view, you can watch the annual meteor shower live August 12 on Space.com, courtesy of the Slooh online observatory. The six-hour Slooh.com webcast will provide views of the Perseid meteor shower 2018, along with some fascinating commentary.
However, if you wind up missing the outbursts of the Perseid meteor shower tonight, don’t fret – Ustream is offering live broadcasts August 12-13, starting at 10 p.m. EDT. The meteor shower will also have increased activity on August 13 if you want to venture out and watch it then.
— Luis Calçada (@_Luis_Calcada) August 12, 2018
The Perseids that make their flybys are made up of tiny particles that came from the Swift-Tuttle comet. The particles orbit around the sun every 133 years. Every time they pass through the inside of the solar system, they often leave trillions of small particles behind in their wake. When the debris passes by Earth, the specks of Swift-Tuttle debris hit the atmosphere traveling at a speed of 132,000 mph and burn up in multiple flashes of light.
— Jason O'Young (@jasonoyoung) August 12, 2018
At those high speeds, even tiny pieces of the dust emit bright sparks when they hit Earth’s atmosphere. The meteors were named Perseids because they seemingly originate from the Perseus constellation.
— Alexandros Maragos (@AlexMaragos) August 12, 2018
There’s usually less activity when the particles of the Perseid meteors pass by because Earth usually manages to just graze the edge of its debris stream. Every once in a while, however, Jupiter’s gravity pulls the group of dust trails closer. The Earth then passes closer through the middle of the debris field, which is much denser.
Experts at NASA and other places state that “this may be one of those years.” And they agree “that three or more streams are on a collision course with Earth.”
“Here’s something to think about. The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago,” added Bill Cooke, who is with NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, AL. “And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.”
Cooke’s function at NASA is to help the space agency understand and prepare for any risks that meteoroids such as those in the Perseid meteor shower might pose. An outburst doesn’t pose any danger to Earth, but it can harm satellites, spacecraft, and astronauts located on the International Space Station.