Sky watchers are in for some magical nights thanks to annual Perseids meteor shower as the Earth passes through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle from July 17 to August 24, with the shower’s peak — when Earth passes through the densest, dustiest area — this weekend.
That means you’ll see the most meteors in the shortest amount of time near that peak, but you can still catch some action from the famed meteor shower before or after that point.
According to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke, the Perseids are perhaps the most popular meteor shower of the year; and in 2018, they’ll be the best shower of the year.
During the Perseids’ peak this month, spectators should see about 60-70 meteors per hour, but in outburst years (such as in 2016) the rate can be between 150-200 meteors an hour.
The phenomenon will climax on the night of August 11- 12 and the following night August 12-13.
The meteor showers are best observed after midnight looking towards the northeast, in dark place away from town lights, and are visible with the naked eye. They pick up a speed of up to 59,000 km a second.
“This year the moon will be near new moon, it will be a crescent, which means it will set before the Perseid show gets underway after midnight,” Cooke told Space.com. “The moon is very favourable for the Perseids this year, and that’ll make the Perseids probably the best shower of 2018 for people who want to go out and view it.”
The Perseids are rich in fireballs, so the show should be even better. Sky watchers looking out for the Perseids should also be able to see Mars (visible until about 4 a.m. local time) and Saturn (visible until about 2 a.m. local time); Venus and Jupiter both set before the Perseids are best viewed (9:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., respectively).
Events are being organised to watch the Perseids Meteor Shower, including by the Kitium Planetarium and Observatory on August 11 at Spot Kitemed in Larnaca, in Kyperounda by the Astronomical Society of Cyprus and Fakas Institutes and in the Troodos Botanical Gardens by the Friends of the Troodos Observatory.
A meteor shower is a spike in the number of meteors or “shooting stars” that streak through the night sky.
Most meteor showers are spawned by comets. As a comet orbits the Sun it sheds an icy, dusty debris stream along its orbit. If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower. Although the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, if you trace their paths, the meteors in each shower appear to “rain” into the sky from the same region.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation that coincides with this region in the sky, a spot known as the radiant. The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall from a point in the constellation Perseus.
Shooting stars” and “falling stars” are both names that describe meteors — streaks of light across the night sky caused by small bits of interplanetary rock and debris called meteoroids vaporising high in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Travelling at tens of thousands of kilometres an hour, meteoroids quickly ignite from the searing friction with the atmosphere. Almost all are destroyed in this process; the rare few that survive and hit the ground are known as meteorites.
When a meteor appears, it seems to “shoot” quickly across the sky, and its small size and intense brightness might make you think it is a star.
Swift-Tuttle was discovered independently by two astronomers, Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle, in 1862. When it last made a pass by Earth in 1992, it was too faint to be seen with the naked eye.