It’s the time of year that stargazers have been waiting for: the Perseid meteor shower. On the night of August 11th and the morning of August 12th, hundreds of tiny meteors will dart through Earth’s night sky, putting on a spectacular light show for late-night viewers. And those who stay up for the shower this year may be rewarded with a particularly special cosmic performance. Experts suspect there will be even more shooting stars than average in this year’s shower.
Experts suspect there will be even more shooting stars than average
The Perseid meteor shower got its name from the constellation Perseus — the area of the sky where the meteors seem to originate from. But in reality, each meteor in the shower is debris from a comet called Swift-Tuttle, which takes 133 years to orbit the Sun. Whenever the comet swings close by the star, the space rock gets super heated and ejects a bunch of dust particles. These tiny chunks then form a stream of particles that stretches along the comet’s orbital path. Earth passes through this debris field once a year, causing many of the particles to burn up in our planet’s atmosphere.
The particles streak through the sky at super high speeds, too. They burn through the atmosphere at 132,000 miles per hour and reach temperatures as high 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. But don’t be alarmed: the shower poses absolutely no threat to Earth. The comet pieces burn up about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, according to NASA.
"Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour."
Most years, those watching the Perseid shower can expect to see about 60 to 80 comets per hour — but this year, there could be more than twice as much. Typically Earth just grazes by Swift-Tuttle’s debris field, but our planet will be even closer to the particle stream this year thanks to some help from our neighbor Jupiter. The gas giant occasionally gets close to the comet stream, and its immense gravity pushes the debris nearer to Earth. Experts think this effect will be on full display this year. "Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour," Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office, said in a statement.
If you want to catch the Perseid meteor shower, the best time to start watching is after midnight local time. If you aren’t able to watch on the 11th, the shower may still be visible on the night of August 12th and the morning of the 13th. And remember, to see lights in the sky, you’ll want to get away from lights on Earth. City goers and those in cloudy areas may have a difficult time catching the shower, but fortunately, NASA has you covered. The space agency will broadcast the shower live on its Ustream channel on both evenings of the shower.