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I understand that the meteors originated from the the comet Swift-Tuttle. Presumably they left the comet with some velocity relative to the solar system. As comets follow elliptical orbits presumably the meteors are generally also following an elliptical orbit. And as the earth follows a circular orbit, why do we keep meeting them every year despite being on different orbits?
This is probably best understood by picture.
Comet Swift-Tuttle is both on a highly elliptical orbit, and a highly inclined orbit, though the inclination of the orbit doesn't matter to your specific question, but it helps with the overall picture. What really matters for Earth getting a meteor shower is that the two orbital paths intersect.
What makes the periodic meteor shower is the dust trail, that follows (and precedes) the comet (not to be confused with dust tail - that's something else). Any solid debris that gets blown off the comet at low velocity enters an orbit with a very similar orbital path to the comet and over hundreds or thousands of orbits, as the comet effectively gets broken up each time it passes the sun, the comet generates a dust or debris trail that largely follows it's entire orbit, at least, that's where the greatest concentration of particles is. Not all meteor showers are periodic, but all periodic meteor showers happen in this way with a semi permanent orbiting ring of dust that the Earth flies through once a year.
Dust trail (generally not visible, too spread out, unless heated by a close pass to the sun)
Dust tail (can be visible), only exists as the comet passes close to the sun.
Every short period comet, unless it's very young, has a debris or dust trail that roughly spans it's entire orbit though the trail is most dense near the comet. In fact, the density of the dust trail can tell us how long the comet has been on it's current orbit. Most short period comets were deflected into their current orbits within the last 100,000 years or so. Short period comets have relatively short life-spans.
Long period comets or near-parabolic comets are different because their orbits are much longer, though they can still generate trails during a pass close to the sun, they tend to be much more spread out given the enormous size of their orbits.
Because the Earth's orbit intersects Swift-Tuttle's debris trail once a year and the debris trail stays mostly in the same place, we get the Perseid meteor shower about the same time every year, and the meteors always come from the same direction in the sky.
Not every short period comet has an orbit that intersects with the Earth's orbit, which is why not all comets are associated with meteor showers, in fact, the majority aren't. 3 dimensions are hard to draw in 2-D pictures, but Pluto and Neptune can be used as an example. It's often said that they cross orbits, but they actually don't. Pluto gets closer to the sun than Neptune, but only when Pluto is near it's perihelion, at which point it's well below (or well above, depending on orientation), Neptune's orbital plane.
An interesting sidebar to this is that comets that give us meteor showers are also comets that are potential earth impacters.
Meteors & Meteorites
What&rsquos that flash of light streaking across the sky? We call the objects that creates this brilliant effect by different names, depending on where it is.
Meteoroids are what we call &ldquospace rocks&rdquo that range in size from dust grains to small asteroids. This term only applies when they&rsquore in space.
Most are pieces of other, larger bodies that have been broken or blasted off. Some come from comets, others from asteroids, and some even come from the Moon and other planets. Some meteoroids are rocky, while others are metallic, or combinations of rock and metal.
When meteoroids enter Earth&rsquos atmosphere, or that of another planet, like Mars, at high speed and burn up, they&rsquore called meteors. This is also when we refer to them as &ldquoshooting stars.&rdquo Sometimes meteors can even appear brighter than Venus -- that&rsquos when we call them &ldquofireballs.&rdquo Scientists estimate that about 48.5 tons (44,000 kilograms) of meteoritic material falls on Earth each day.
When a meteoroid survives its trip through the atmosphere and hits the ground, it&rsquos called a meteorite.
Impact with Earth
When meteorites do hit the ground, their speed is roughly half what it was upon entry, and they blast out craters 12 to 20 times their size. Craters on Earth form much as they would on the moon or any rocky planet. Smaller objects create bowl-shaped craters. Larger impacts cause a rebound that creates a central peak slipping along the rim forms terraces. The largest impacts form basins in which multiple rebounds form several inner peaks.
Large meteors can explode above the surface, causing widespread damage from the blast and ensuing fire. This happened in 1908 over Siberia, in what's called the Tunguska event. On June 30, 1908, across hundreds of miles, witnesses saw a ball of fire streak through the sky, suggesting the meteor entered the atmosphere at an oblique angle. It exploded, sending out hot winds and loud noises and shook the ground enough to break windows in nearby villages. Small particles blown into the atmosphere lit the night sky for several days. No meteorite was ever found, and for years many scientists thought the devastation was caused by a comet. Now, the prevailing theory holds that a meteor exploded just above the surface.
A similar event occurred over Chelyabinsk, Russia, when a 17-meter rock exploded 12 to 15 miles above the Earth's surface on Feb. 15, 2013, damaging buildings and injuring more than 1,000 people. According to a statement by Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario in Canada, "The energy of the resulting explosion exceeded 470 kilotons of TNT" — 30 to 40 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II.
Although the Russian event brought into focus the possible danger Earth could suffer from space rocks, most meteors don't cause nearly as much damage. Still, NASA and other entities keep careful track of all asteroids visible from Earth, and are actively engaged in discovering as many asteroids as possible — especially the ones that are larger and would pose more of a (theoretical) threat to Earth. Asteroid orbits are plotted and tracked to see if they will intersect with Earth in the future. While no imminently threatening object has been found, NASA continues the search and posts the results publicly on the Small Body Database Browser.
When a Perseid particle enters the atmosphere, it compresses the air in front of it, which heats up. The meteor, in turn, can be heated to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 Celsius). The intense heat vaporizes most meteors, creating what we call shooting stars. Most become visible at around 60 miles up (97 kilometers). Some large meteors splatter, causing a brighter flash called a fireball, and sometimes an explosion that can often be heard from the ground.
But First! Why do meteor showers happen?
Meteors hit the Earth all the time! In fact, just today, about 100 tons of space dust hit the Earth! Meteors are occurring all the time all around the world, and if you’re out at night under clear dark skies, you can see a couple of meteors each hour, simply because they’re flying around the Solar System, left over from the chaos that formed the planets.
Meteor showers are special, and are characterized by more meteor strikes than a typical night. They happen because of comets!Comet C2020/F3 NEOWISE, taken by Ryan Marciniak.
Comets are big dirty snowballs, several kilometres across, being blasted by the heat of the Sun as they approach the inner solar system on their long elliptical orbits. The energy of the Sun melts ice, heats and expands gases, and liberates dust and ionized gas from the comet. The dust and gas form the tails of the comet that we can see from Earth, just like we did a few weeks ago with C2020/F3 NEOWISE.
But not all comets are equal! There’s something special about the comets that create meteor showers: They cross the orbit of the Earth.The orbit of a distant comet (shown in red) crosses the Earth’s orbit, leaving a dusty tail behind it.
When the comet crosses Earth’s orbit and loses dust from solar heating, it leaves a trail that follows behind it for millennia as it follows a path close to the Sun and then back to the distant reaches of the outer Solar System. Over many orbits, the dust builds up throughout the orbit of the comet, thicker in some parts than others. When the Earth passes through this dust trail at the same time each year, the dust hits the atmosphere and burns up as meteors, giving us a timely meteor shower.
This is also why the quality of a meteor shower is hard to predict in any given year. There may be more or less dust in the comet’s orbital trail, and some years we get lucky to collide with more!
Why do we keep orbiting through the Perseid meteors? - Astronomy
Hey folks, Michael back again for this week’s theme on the Perseid meteor shower.
Did you go out and see the comet last month? This beautiful picture below was taken right beside me by my friend Claude when we were on Kits Beach. The bright coma was visible to the naked eye, and even the wispy tail too, but hang on I thought this week's theme was the Perseids? Aren’t meteors and comets different? Well they are, but they are connected in a really cool way!
Image Credit: Claude Schneider
So, to understand meteor showers, we need to understand comets. A comet is made up of a whole bunch of debris that has trapped lots of different frozen gasses.
They generally reside in the far reaches of our solar system, unlike asteroids, as you learnt from Rachel in a previous blog, which reside in the inner solar system, and are more solid. Comets have these really long elliptical orbits which means sometimes we discover new ones that modern humans have never seen before, like Comet NEOWISE, which last visited Earth 6,700 years ago!
So, if we look back at the comet, we see that beautiful long tail, which is the comet releasing some of the trapped gasses and debris as it moves towards and away from the Sun.
Image Credit: Claude Schneider
Here is where we finally get to meteor showers because all of that rocky debris that the comet has left in its wake is just floating in an area of space close to the Earth, and when the Earth moves through that path, we get increased meteor activity that we call a shower.
Meteors fall into our atmosphere every day, as space is filled with little chunks of rock, but it’s these “showers” that give you the best chance to “wish upon a falling star”. The Perseid meteor shower is associated with the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle which last passed us in 1992.
So, to view the Perseid meteor shower, you don’t need a telescope or any special equipment. You just need to find a nice wide-open dark space and lay down looking northeast where the constellation Perseus is. If you have a star gazing app on your phone you could use that to orient yourself, but as much as possible try not to look at your phone as it will ruin your dark adaption. After about 20-30 minutes your eyes will adjust to the dark and you’ll be able to see the fainter meteors.
Vancouver’s night sky August 12 at about 11 pm
The Perseids lasts from July 17 – August 24, 2020 and the peak will be around midnight on August 12th. Depending on what the weather is like, and how dark of a spot you are in, will determine how many meteors you might see. In perfect conditions maybe around 60-80 an hour, but in my experience in a dark city park probably closer to 10-20.
Below are some resources to help you get ready for a night of viewing. Have fun looking up everyone and make some wishes!
Watch the National Geographic video Meteor Showers 101 to discover more about these dazzling light shows the universe puts on every year.
Ask yourself: What’s something you are curious to learn more about meteor showers?
Delve deeper into the constellation Perseus where the Perseid meteor shower appears to radiate from.
Junior astronomers: Read the ancient Greek myth about the hero Perseus.
Senior astronomers: Read the ancient Greek myth about the hero Perseus and explore the major stars and deep space objects the constellation Perseus is home to.
Ask yourself: Why do you think the ancient Greeks made up stories about the stars they saw in the sky?
Check out some meteor shower trivia you can use to impress friends and family late at night or early in the morning while you’re out hunting for shooting stars.
Junior astronomers: meteor shower trivia
Senior astronomers: meteor shower trivia
Ask yourself: Which fact surprised you the most?
Find the best time and date to see the Perseids from where you are.
If you’re on the lookout for somewhere with darker skies, try consulting the British Columbia Clear Sky Chart which lists conditions from 1 to 9 on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale with this colour-coded key.
Ask yourself: Besides timing and location, is there anything else you can think of that is important to keep in mind when going meteor hunting?
Get involved with the Fireballs in the Sky citizen science initiative by reporting your own meteor sightings to scientists . They will use your reports to track the trajectories of meteors from their orbit in space to where they might have landed on Earth.
Ask yourself: What do you think scientists can learn by studying meteors?
Why Do Meteor Showers Occur About the Same Time Every Year and Other Questions From Our Readers
So how do you clean the Hope Diamond? -- V. M. Carter, Silver Spring, Maryland
From This Story
Video: Introducing Ask Smithsonian
We do it in the morning before the museum opens. It happens about once a week or whenever someone points out that the diamond’s looking a little dusty. Having the Hope Diamond is like having a black polished table in your living room—every bit of dust shows. When dust gets inside that heavily fortified vault, we close down the gallery (with help from the security officers) and open up the vault. Then we just wipe the diamond with a common gem cloth. If it’s a little extra dirty, we use a little alcohol. Then we place the diamond back in the vault and close it up, hoping we don’t jar any more dust loose.
Jeffrey E. Post
Mineralogist, National Museum of Natural History
Why do meteor showers occur about the same time every year? -- Jennifer Uthoff, Pflugerville, Texas
Meteor showers occur only when the Earth’s orbit intersects that of a specific comet, and those intersections occur at fixed intervals.
The Leonid meteors take place when the Earth intersects the orbit of Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, and the Perseid meteors happen when the Earth intersects the orbit of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. It may be helpful to imagine all those diagrams we saw in science class of the solar system from above the plane of the planets. The Earth's orbit was drawn in as an almost complete circle. A comet orbit was often drawn in as a long, elegant ellipse. If we imagine the meteor shower occurs when the orbit of the Earth intersects the cometary orbit, we can see that these showers would not only occur at the same time each year, but also that their duration would be very short. Keep in mind that it is very rare for the orbit of any body in space to intersect the orbit of the Earth. There are hundreds of known short-period comets, and only a handful of meteor showers.
Timothy B. Spahr
Astronomer, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Why does the Smithsonian never fly the aircraft it restores? -- Joshua Walty, Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
Restoring an aircraft to make it safe to fly requires replacing parts and systems, but the Air and Space Museum’s goal is to preserve artifacts as close to their original condition as possible. Keeping them in non-flying status supports that mission. Critics of this philosophy argue that not flying these aircraft robs us of experiencing them as they were when they were making history, that flying them can afford a fuller understanding of the artifact and how it operates. There definitely is something to be gained when experiencing a great historic aircraft in flight, but it has to be weighed against what is lost in bringing them to flying condition and the potential risk of losing rare specimens in an accident. Also, one-third of our approximately 365 airplanes are one of a kind. If one of those crashed, it would be gone forever.
Peter L. Jakab
Curator of Early Flight National Museum of Air and Space
The artist James Hampton made The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly out of things like cardboard, tape and aluminum. How do you conserve it so it lasts? -- Thea Joselow, Bethesda, Maryland
The Hampton Throne has what we call “inherent vice”—the materials he repurposed are destined to fall apart. Examples include the joinery methods. To attach paper, foil and cardboard, pins and poor-quality glues were used heavy wood elements were sometimes joined with thin brads or tacks—not the best choices for sturdy, permanent attachments. Salvaged casters were taken from used furniture, and their jerky movement jars and stresses the Throne elements.
We can’t alter his work, but to prolong its life we can reduce its exposure to light, which fades and degrades materials and adhesives remove dust, so it doesn’t attract water molecules, which can corrode foils and clean the Throne, to keep it shiny and true to the artist’s concept of a heavenly setting for salvation.
Objects Conservator Smithsonian American Art Museum
Jazz from the 1920s sounds nothing like jazz today. Why do we use “jazz” for such different music? -- Patrick Leonard, Charlottesville, Virginia
In the past 90 years, jazz has changed tremendously, resulting in a myriad of styles: New Orleans, swing, bebop, cool, hard bop, modal, fusion, Latin jazz and others. The many disparate styles of jazz are linked by melodies with bent or “blue” notes, call-and-response patterns, off-beat and syncopated rhythms, and, finally, improvisation—each time a jazz band plays a piece, it sounds fresh.
John Edward Hasse
Curator of American Music National Museum of American History
10 Things: What's That Space Rock?
The path through the solar system is a rocky road. Asteroids, comets, Kuiper Belt Objects&mdashall kinds of small bodies of rock, metal and ice are in constant motion as they orbit the Sun. But what&rsquos the difference between them, anyway? And why do these miniature worlds fascinate space explorers so much? The answer is profound: they may hold the keys to better understanding where we all come from.
Asteroids are rocky, airless worlds that orbit our Sun. They are remnants left over from the formation of our solar system, ranging in size from the length of a car to about as wide as a large city. Asteroids are diverse in composition some are metallic while others are rich in carbon, giving them a coal-black color. They can be &ldquorubble piles,&rdquo loosely held together by their own gravity, or they can be solid rocks.
Most of the asteroids in our solar system reside in a region called the main asteroid belt. This vast, doughnut-shaped ring between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter contains hundreds of thousands of asteroids, maybe millions. But despite what you see in the movies, there is still a great deal of space between each asteroid. With all due respect to C3PO, the odds of flying through the asteroid belt without colliding with one are actually pretty good.
Other asteroids (and comets) follow different orbits, including some that enter Earth&rsquos neighborhood. These are called near-Earth objects, or NEOs. We can actually keep track of the ones we have discovered and predict where they are headed. The Minor Planet Center (MPC) and Jet Propulsion Laboratory&rsquos Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) do that very thing. Telescopes around the world and in space are used to spot new asteroids and comets, and the MPC and CNEOS, along with International colleagues, calculate where those asteroids and comets are going and determine whether they might pose any impact threat to Earth.
For scientists, asteroids play the role of time capsules from the early solar system, having been preserved in the vacuum of space for billions of years. What&rsquos more, the main asteroid belt may have been a source of water&mdashand organic compounds critical to life&mdashfor the inner planets like Earth.
Comets also orbit the Sun, but they are more like snowballs than space rocks. Each comet has a center called a nucleus that contains icy chunks of frozen gases, along with bits of rock and dust. When a comet&rsquos orbit brings it close to the Sun, the comet heats up and spews dust and gases, forming a giant, glowing ball called a coma around its nucleus, along with two tails &ndash one made of dust and the other of excited gas (ions). Driven by a constant flow of particles from the Sun called the solar wind, the tails point away from the Sun, sometimes stretching for millions of miles.
While there are likely billions of comets in the solar system, the current confirmed number is 3,535. Like asteroids, comets are leftover material from the formation of our solar system around 4.6 billion years ago, and they preserve secrets from the earliest days of the Sun&rsquos family. Some of Earth&rsquos water and other chemical constituents could have been delivered by comet impacts.
Meteoroids are fragments and debris in space resulting from collisions among asteroids, comets, moons and planets. They are among the smallest &ldquospace rocks.&rdquo However, we can actually see them when they streak through our atmosphere in the form of meteors and meteor showers.
Meteors are meteoroids that fall through Earth&rsquos atmosphere at extremely high speeds. The pressure and heat they generate as they push through the air causes them to glow and create a streak of light in the sky. Most burn up completely before touching the ground. We often refer to them as &ldquoshooting stars.&rdquo Meteors may be made mostly of rock, metal or a combination of the two.
Scientists estimate that about 48.5 tons (44,000 kilograms) of meteoritic material falls on Earth each day.
5. Meteor Showers
Several meteors per hour can usually be seen on any given night. Sometimes the number increases dramatically&mdashthese events are termed meteor showers. They occur when Earth passes through trails of particles left by comets. When the particles enter Earth&rsquos atmosphere, they burn up, creating hundreds or even thousands of bright streaks in the sky. We can easily plan when to watch meteor showers because numerous showers happen annually as Earth&rsquos orbit takes it through the same patches of comet debris. This year&rsquos Orionid meteor shower peaks on Oct. 21.
Meteorites are asteroid, comet, moon and planet fragments (meteoroids) that survive the heated journey through Earth&rsquos atmosphere all the way to the ground. Most meteorites found on Earth are pebble to fist size, but some are larger than a building.
Early Earth experienced many large meteorite impacts that caused extensive destruction. Well-documented stories of modern meteorite-caused injury or death are rare. In the first known case of an extraterrestrial object to have injured a human being in the U.S., Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama, was severely bruised by a 8-pound (3.6-kilogram) stony meteorite that crashed through her roof in November 1954.
7. Dwarf Planets
Don&rsquot let the name fool you despite their small size, dwarf planets are worlds that are just as compelling as their larger siblings. Dwarf planets are defined by astronomers as bodies massive enough to be shaped by gravity into a round or nearly round shape, but they don&rsquot have enough of their own gravitational muscle to clear their path of other objects as they orbit the Sun. In our solar system, dwarf planets are mostly found in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune Pluto is the best-known example. But the largest object in the asteroid belt is the dwarf planet Ceres. Like Pluto, Ceres shows signs of active geology, including ice volcanoes.
Have exactly one minute? Find out more about dwarf planets: Space Shorts: What Is a Dwarf Planet?
8. Kuiper Belt Objects
The Kuiper Belt is a disc-shaped region beyond Neptune that extends from about 30 to 55 astronomical units -- that is, 30 to 55 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun. There may be hundreds of thousands of icy bodies and a trillion or more comets in this distant region of our solar system.
Besides Pluto, some of the mysterious worlds of the Kuiper Belt include Eris, Sedna, Quaoar, Makemake and Haumea. Like asteroids and comets, Kuiper Belt objects are time capsules, perhaps kept even more pristine in their icy realm.
9. Oort Cloud Objects
The Oort Cloud is a group of icy bodies beginning roughly 186 billion miles (300 billion kilometers) away from the Sun. While the planets of our solar system orbit in a flat plane, the Oort Cloud is believed to be a giant spherical shell surrounding the Sun, planets and Kuiper Belt Objects. It is like a big, thick bubble around our solar system. The Oort Cloud&rsquos icy bodies can be as large as mountains, and sometimes larger.
This dark, cold expanse is by far the solar system&rsquos largest and most distant region. It extends all the way to about 100,000 AU (100,000 times the distance between Earth and the Sun) &ndash a good portion of the way to the next star system. Comets from the Oort Cloud can have orbital periods of thousands or even millions of years. Consider this: At its current speed of about a million miles a day, NASA&rsquos Voyager 1 spacecraft won&rsquot reach the Oort Cloud for more than 300 years. It will then take about 30,000 years for the spacecraft to traverse the Oort Cloud, and exit our solar system entirely.
10. The Explorers
Fortunately, even though the Oort Cloud is extremely distant, most of the small bodies we&rsquove been discussing are more within reach. In fact, NASA and other space agencies have a whole flotilla of robotic spacecraft that are exploring these small worlds up close. Our mechanical emissaries act as our eyes and hands in deep space, searching for whatever clues these time capsules hold.
A partial roster of current or recent missions to small, rocky destinations includes, from NASA:
The Institute for Creation Research
Both amateur and professional stargazers have an opportunity to see a little more of God&rsquos glory revealed in the heavens 1 next week. The Perseid meteor shower is probably the best of all the annual meteor showers, and it is scheduled to put on a &ldquopeak performance&rdquo in the early morning hours of Monday through Wednesday, August 12-13. 2
Meteor showers are caused by comets. When comets approach the sun, they lose material as ices in the comet nucleus vaporize. These gases form the fuzzy &ldquocoma&rdquo around the comet nucleus as well as a tail. 3 Sometimes, bits of rocky material break off from the nucleus, forming a debris trail behind the comet. If the Earth passes through this debris trail, cometary fragments burn up as they enter our atmosphere at high speed, forming a &ldquoshower&rdquo of beautiful &ldquoshooting&rdquo or &ldquofalling stars.&rdquo In the case of the Perseid meteor shower, the &ldquoshooting stars&rdquo are caused by debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet. 2 The shower is called the Perseid meteor shower, because the point from which the meteors appear to originate, called the radiant, is located within the constellation Perseus.
Besides their intrinsic beauty, meteor showers are a reminder that our solar system is young. Secular scientists claim that comets (which provide the source material for meteor showers) are &ldquoleftovers&rdquo from the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. But because comets lose material on each approach to the sun, they have finite lifetimes, most of which are measured in just thousands or tens of thousands of years. So if comets are billions of years old, then why do we still see them in our night skies?
Creation scientists would argue that this is because comets, as well as the rest of our solar system, are young, having been created by God about 6,000 years ago. Secular scientists argue that &ldquoreservoirs&rdquo of potential comet nuclei can replenish the solar system with new comets to replace the comets that are no longer visible. However, there are serious problems with this idea. First, there is no evidence that one of these supposed reservoirs, the so-called Oort Cloud, even exists! 4 Worse yet, there is strong evidence that at least some individual comets must be young. For instance, scientists were surprised that the nucleus of Comet Hartley 2 still contains significant amounts of &ldquodry ice,&rdquo or solid carbon dioxide, even though dry ice is volatile and should have mostly (or completely) vaporized after billions of years. 5,6 In order to maintain a belief that this comet is billions of years old, one has to argue that either the rate of escape of CO2 was, for some reason, ridiculously slower in the past, or that the escaping carbon dioxide is somehow being replenished. But how or why would either of these options be the case? It is very hard to avoid the conclusion that this particular comet is young.
The Perseid meteor shower stands out from other meteor showers for a couple of reasons. First, it is known for its &ldquofireballs&rdquo&mdashespecially bright, colorful meteors. Its meteors also are more numerous, with sometimes 50-100 &ldquoshooting stars&rdquo per hour. 2 For those wanting to view this year&rsquos Perseid meteor shower, experts recommend finding a safe place outside the city limits in order to get away from light pollution. They also recommend that you lie on your back, so that you can see as much of the sky as possible, and that you give your eyes about thirty minutes to adjust to the lower light levels. Binoculars and telescopes aren&rsquot needed, however. 7 Meteors can sometimes be seen as early as 10 p.m., but for those in the northern hemisphere, best viewing is usually in the hours before dawn. 2 Although the meteors seem to originate from the constellation Perseus, it isn&rsquot necessary to be facing that constellation as you observe, as meteors appear all over the night sky. Naturally, observing for more than one night improves your chances of seeing shooting stars.
For those wishing to see this celestial spectacle, may the Lord bless you with clear skies. And if it is cloudy where you live August 12 or 13, don&rsquot despair. The meteor shower is actually ongoing right now until about August 24, although the peak, with the best viewing, occurs next week.
Perseid meteor shower 2020 brings celestial fireworks to the night sky (photos)
The Perseid meteor shower, one of the most famous annual "shooting star" displays, reached its peak activity this week, putting on a spectacular show for skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere.
While the Perseids are typically considered to be one of the best meteor showers, with about 50 to 75 meteors per hour, this year slightly fewer meteors were visible than usual. That's because the first-quarter moon drowned out some of the fainter meteors with its bright light.
Despite some interference by moonlight, photographers around the world managed to capture plenty of beautiful photos of Perseid meteors streaking through the night sky.
Snap an amazing 2020 Perseid meteor shower photo? Let us know! Send images and comments to [email protected].
The Perseid meteor shower happens every year from mid-July to late August, when Earth passes through the stream of debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which circles the sun about once every 135 years.
While the meteor shower is active for about five weeks, it reaches its peak activity every year around Aug. 12, according to the American Meteor Society. This year, the Perseids peaked before dawn on Wednesday (Aug. 12), but the view was better late Tuesday night (Aug. 11) before the moon rose and began to outshine the dimmer meteors.
In the photo above, taken by astrophotographer Barbara Matthews in Humboldt County, California on Tuesday (Aug. 11), a brilliant pink-and-green meteor streaks across the starry night sky near the glittering Milky Way galaxy. Visible to the left of the Milky Way is the bright planet Jupiter, with Saturn shining a bit more faintly to its left.
Matthews captured this image at 10:30 p.m. local time, or about 90 minutes before moonrise, when the sky was free of obstructing moonlight.
In the Nevada desert, near Las Vegas, astrophotographer Tyler Leavitt captured his own gorgeous views of Perseid meteors and the Milky Way.
In the image above, a pink-and-green meteor streaks into view from the left side of the frame, while Jupiter and Saturn glow side-by-side in the center. A second photo by Leavitt, below, shows a meteor appearing to head straight toward Jupiter.
While meteors often appear as white "shooting stars" prancing across the night sky, they can also glow with brilliant colors like pink, green, orange and purple.
The color of a meteor's trail depends on its chemical composition as a meteor burns up in the atmosphere, elements like calcium, sodium and iron begin to ionize, producing a colorful glow. Perseids are known to produce bright pink-and-green trails, while the Geminid meteor shower in December tends to produce meteors with turquoise trails.
If you missed the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, it's not too late to catch it! The shower will remain active until around Aug. 26, according to the American Meteor Society.
To look for the meteors, you'll want to find a dark sky away from city lights. Perseid meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus (hence the name). Moonlight could still obstruct some of the fainter meteors, but the moon is currently waning, so the night sky will gradually get darker until the new moon next Tuesday (Aug. 18).