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Perseid Meteor Shower

This article first appeared in the 8/9/19 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

Perseid Meteor Shower

In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower on August 13, 2015, in Sprice Knob, West Virginia. Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Perseid Meteor Shower 

by Vinita Domier

Davis Astronomy Club


The annual cosmic fireworks known as the Perseid meteor shower are back for our summer viewing pleasure. Visible from July 23 through August 20, with the peak activity occurring around August 12/13 night, these shooting or falling ‘stars’ are meteors visibly streaking in the earth’s atmosphere. Perseids are the most observed meteor showers as they occur during the warm summertime, consistently have a high meteor count, and their meteor streaks are bright colorful arcs in the sky.


Close to the peak activity of the Perseids, Northern hemisphere observers can see up to 60 – 100 meteors per hour under ideal viewing conditions which include unobstructed views of dark moonless skies and observations made between midnight and dawn. As full moon is on August 15, moonlight from the waxing gibbous moon close to the nights around the peak will obscure all but the brightest meteors. Thus, the optimum times to observe the 2019 Perseids are the hours between moonset and sunrise between August 9 –12 from dark locations that have a clear 360 degree view.


Meteoroids are debris particles travelling in interplanetary space that have fragmented from comets or asteroids. If they get close to earth to be gravitationally attracted, they enter the earth's upper atmosphere at high speeds where they vaporize due to friction with the air molecules. The resulting luminous trails of glowing ions are called meteors, their colors depending on the chemicals in the debris particles and the atmospheric gases. Meteorites are any pieces of the debris that survive their fiery forays through the earth's atmosphere and land blackened on the earth.


Meteor showers occur when the earth, during its annual orbit around the sun, passes through a stream of debris left in the wake of a comet or asteroid during its closest approach to the sun. As the icy body gets heated by the sun’s radiation, some of the frozen gases in its core vaporize. Dust and rocky particles are carried away by the volatile gases and continue to orbit around the sun in the same orbit as the parent body. If the earth’s orbit intersects this debris orbit, a meteor shower results when these particles slam into the earth’s atmosphere at great speeds. The Perseid meteor shower is attributed to the particulates shed by periodic Comet 109P/Swift-Turtle.


Even though meteors have parallel motions and are visible anywhere in the sky, they appear to emanate from a specific region in the sky called the radiant. Each shower is named for the constellation or bright star from which the meteors seem to radiate outwards. The Perseids seem to radiate from Perseus constellation, and are one of eight major annual meteor showers. The best times to see a meteor shower is generally between midnight and sunrise as the radiant is higher in the sky then. 


Everyone is invited to the Saturday, August 10meeting of the Davis Astronomy Club atExplorit Science Center (3141 5thStreet, Davis) starting at 7:30pm. This is a free meeting, and all ages are welcome to attend the featured presentation indoors where we will discuss the Perseids, followed by the star party outdoors where we will view the waxing gibbous moon and the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn. 


 Explorit's coming events:

  • Visit Explorit's latest exhibition, Earth Explorations. Explorit'sExploration Galleryis open to the public every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m.  Admission is $5.00 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free.




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