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Perseid Meteor Shower

This article appeared in the August 7, 2015 edition of the Davis Enterprise.


By Vinita Domier

Special to the Enterprise


This year’s annual Perseid meteor shower is going to be a spectacular celestial show in the night skies. The meteoric fireworks will be visible from around August 1–18, peaking at predawn on August 12th/13th when 60-80 meteors/hour are predicted to be streaking across the sky.

No special equipment is required to observe meteor showers, though it is highly recommended to get away from city lights. As moonlight also tends to obscure fainter meteors, it is very fortuitous that the nearly new moon, rising around dawn on the night of peak activity, will not interfere with the great viewing of the 2015 Perseids.

Meteors are often mislabeled as shooting or falling stars. Astronomically speaking, meteors are the luminous streaks visible in the sky caused by space debris, known as meteoroids, vaporizing upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere at great speeds. Most meteoroids are tiny particles and hence are completely burned up upon entry. Some parts of larger meteoroids do survive the friction with air molecules, and land on Earth as fragments known as meteorites.

Scattered meteors are visible every night as space particles are randomly colliding into the Earth’s enveloping atmosphere all the time. Nine times annually Earth experiences a bombardment of meteoroids, resulting in major meteor showers that last for days.

Even though meteors have true parallel motions and are visible anywhere in the sky, their apparent direction of motion is away from a specific area in the sky called "the radiant." Meteor showers are hence named after the constellation from which they appear to radiate. The meteors during the Perseid meteor shower seem to originate from the Perseus constellation. The best time to see a meteor shower is between midnight and sunrise, as that corresponds to the time when the view of the oncoming meteors is unhindered by the rotating Earth. From sunset to midnight, however, the Earth blocks the view of the oncoming meteors, so only the ones that the Earth overtakes are visible.

To watch the Perseid meteor shower, recline on a chair or blanket and keep adequately warm. Point your toes northeastward and look halfway up the sky, making sure you have an unobstructed view of the sky in all directions. Insect repellent and a red-filtered flashlight are also recommended. Observing from a dark sky location will greatly enhance the Perseids viewing experience.



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