Many thanks to Jennifer Hanley from the Arkansas Center for Space and Planetary Science for this blog entry!
This weekend is the Perseid Meteor Shower. Warm temperatures and high meteor counts often make this the most popular meteor shower of the year. The peak will be Friday and Saturday nights.
Meteors, also known as “shooting stars,” are pieces of rock or debris that burn up in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Traveling at tens of thousands of miles per hour, they quickly ignite from the searing friction. Almost all of them burn up; the rare few that survive the fall to Earth are called meteorites.
Meteors will be visible in all portions of the sky. If you trace their paths back to their origin, they will appear to come from the same spot, called the radiant. In this case the radiant is in the constellation Perseus, hence the name of the shower.
The Perseids are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle. This comet circles the Sun every 133 years, and as it comes close to the Sun, chunks of rock and ice are blown off. Earth passes through this debris field every year around August 11.
To best view the meteor shower, get away from city lights. State and national parks offer safe, dark viewing areas. After you have escaped the city glow, find a dark, secluded spot where passing cars’ headlights won’t ruin your night vision. Pack like it’s the Fourth of July; bring comfortable chairs and blankets, bug spray, snacks and drinks, plus a red-filtered flashlight for reading maps that won’t ruin your night vision. Binoculars aren’t necessary, your eyes will do just fine.
Meteors will be visible all evening, but they increase in frequency in the early morning. The highest counts (up to 60 per hour) will be visible an hour before the first light of dawn. The best way to view a meteor shower is to lay on the ground looking straight up. Although the Moon will rise later in the evening (about mindnight Friday and 1am Saturday), it is a waning crescent and shouldn’t interfere with viewing meteors too much. Be patient when viewing a meteor shower, you might have to wait in between sightings, they tend to come in clusters with breaks in between.
Follow us on Twitter @4029weather and our 4029 Weather Updates Facebook Page