Saturday night and Sunday morning the Earth will pass through a ribbon of dust left by a comet. Sand grain sized pieces of comet Swift-Tuttle will hit the Earth’s atmosphere at 135,000 miles per hour. The friction of our atmosphere will cause them to burn brightly at an altitude of about 80 miles. The result is a bright streak for a second or so, making them visible to us. NOTE: We will NOT be hit by a comet, just the dust it left behind when it passed through this part of the solar system.
Meteors are sometimes called shooting or falling stars because they look ‘star like’ and shoot though the night sky. But those names couldn’t be farther from the truth. Stars are huge. They can be millions of times bigger than the Earth while most meteors are the size of dust grains.
No equipment is needed to view meteors; bring a warm beverage and plenty of patience. Just lay back on a lounge chair or blanket where you can see most of the sky. Avoid buildings and trees that can block your view. Try to get to a dark viewing area away from street and house lights. But don’t underestimate how cold it can feel out at night under a clear sky. Be prepared with long sleeves and pants.
The best chance to see Perseid meteors streaking through the sky will be the morning of Sunday, Aug. 12, from 12 am until morning twilight being the best. You may see meteors Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights as well, but at lower rates. The crescent Moon will rise about 2 am on Sunday morning but should not spoil the view. Depending on the darkness of your viewing location, and good timing, you may see 5 to 30 meteors per hour.
All the Perseid meteor trails can be traced back to a point in the sky near the Constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus. Both constellations will be in the East at about 2am Sunday morning. These showers are unpredictable so you never really know what time the ‘peak’ will come. So…if the sky is clear on Saturday night into Sunday morning, give the night sky more than a passing glance. You may see some of nature’s fireworks…meteors.
Attached is a picture I took of a Perseid meteor back in 2010.