The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaks from August 11 to 13, the event many consider to be the best meteor shower of the year, thanks to frequent meteors streaking across the sky and comfortable nighttime temperatures. This year, skywatchers can expect to see between 50 and 75 meteors an hour under dark skies, or about one meteor every minute. The meteors are bits of material strewn across Earth’s path in space by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The bits of dust and grit glow brightly as they burn up while entering Earth’s atmosphere at about 37 miles per second.
This year, for those who venture out before midnight on the peak date(s), Earth’s Moon won’t interfere. Dedicated meteor spotters — those who observe in the wee hours between midnight and dawn — may curse as Moon rises and brightens the sky, making faint meteors harder to see. There is another problem, however, much closer to home: the weather.
The weather forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Of course.
Do not abandon hope.
The nights preceding and following the shower’s peak see occasional meteors from the Perseid and Alpha Capricornid showers and include fireballs (very bright meteors) from both. When the sky’s clear, go out and enjoy the mild nights that may include “shooting stars.” After twilight fades, find a dark spot, spread out a blanket, or untangle that deck lounge chair, apply a little mosquito repellent and look up. As your eyes grow used to the dark you’ll see more and more stars, planets Jupiter and Saturn gracing the southern sky, and with decently dark sky, spy the soft clouds of our own Milky Way galaxy. You’ll probably see a satellite or two, too.
Earth is entering a stream of debris from Halley’s Comet, source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Thursday night, NASA’s network of all-sky meteor cameras detected 23 Orionid fireballs over the USA –meteors that flare brighter than the planet Venus shines– a result of comet dust hitting the atmosphere at speeds exceeding 65 km/s (145,000 mph). Among several fireballs recorded by the Fireball Network camera on the Hiram campus was the grand meteoric streak pictured above; that fireball was also recorded by the camera located at the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh in the wee hours of Friday morning. Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Oct. 21-22 with as many as 25 meteors per hour. The meteor shower is called “Orionid” because the “falling stars” appear to originate from the vicinity of our sky occupied constellation Orion. Visit Spaceweather.com for observing tips and sky maps. — From a report by Spaceweather.com plus local contribution.