perseid meteor shower, august 12 perseid
Nikolas Giakoumidis/AP

Perseid Meteor Shower Lights Up the Sky

August 12, 2008 12:24 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
The popular display from the Perseid Meteor Shower started August 11 and will continue a few more days.

Watch the Sky

The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaked during the early morning hours on Aug. 12, treating stargazers to a light show in the sky.

The meteors from the Perseids are the debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. The comet orbits the sun every 133 years, and last came close to Earth in 1992. When Earth moves through the comet’s trail, the debris hits the atmosphere at approximately 130,000 miles per hour and burns up, leaving bright streaks of light behind.

The shower is called the Perseids because the vapor trails of the meteors all seem to come together at a point in the constellation Perseus. According to The Grand Rapids Press, this is an illusion caused by the fact that the comet rubble flies through the Earth's atmosphere at roughly parallel paths.

Meteor showers frequently occur in the winter, making the Perseid shower popular because stargazers don’t have to get cold if they want to watch. And while some meteor showers can be exciting one year and dull the next, the Perseids generally have a consistent number of meteorites. “This is the one we look forward to every year,” stated Mike Bakich, senior editor of Astronomy magazine.

A “very good” meteor shower consists of about one meteor per minute for one observer watching under a dark sky. When the Perseids peak, viewers can see between 60 and 100 meteors an hour, Bakich said.
This number is just an average, however. What viewers are more likely to see is a cluster of meteorites in close succession, accompanied by a lull of a few minutes or more.

Those who missed the Tuesday morning display could have some luck in the early morning hours for the next few days. The meteor shower will still be here awhile longer, but astronomers say it won't be as bright. The key will be watching from an area that is as dark as possible.

Related Topics: A treat for researchers; a unique meteor shower

Reference: Falling stars; astronomy


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