Eyes to the Skies – the Perseid Meteor Showers

The Perseid meteor showers have been putting on their annual show for thousands of years. Each August as Earth moves through the universe we are dazzled by the so called shooting stars known as the Perseid meteor showers. The showers arrive faithfully each year in late July and can be viewed through August. Mid August is generally the best time for viewing the meteor showers, even if the moon is full.

What’s the big deal about the Perseid meteor showers? Seeing a sky full of shooting stars is a pretty big deal! Why not make a romantic date, head for the hills with a bottle of wine and wish the night away. Chances are you’ll see between 15 to 20 meteors per hour during Perseid’s peak times. If that isn’t natural fireworks, what is?

The Perseid meteors are actually burning dust and debris from the Comet Swift-Tuttle whose wide tail intersects Earth’s orbit each year in July and August (usually July 15 through August 25th with a peak on or around August 12th each year). As the dust from the comet’s tail hit our atmosphere at astonishing speeds of 132,000 miles per hour, a vivid streak of light appears as the “meteor” burns. When Earth is in the dustiest part of the comet’s tail is when the showiest sparks appear.

Perseid meteor showers are the most famous of the meteor showers that Earth goes through each year. Part of their charm lies in the fact that they occur during the warm summer months in the Northern Hemisphere.

While sky watching experts say the best time for viewing the Perseid meteor showers is at dawn on the peak days (usually August 12th or 13th), the meteors are visible any time after the Perseus constellation rises in the Northwest sky (generally around 9:00 PM on peak days). The showers take place near the constellation Perseus though many meteors can be seen across the night sky. Meteors that skirt along Earth’s horizon are affectionately called “Earth Grazers”.

The best bet is to get far from the city lights, climb a hill, spread out a blanket and enjoy the show. Lie down so you get a wide view of the entire sky. Avoid the temptation to use binoculars as they actually narrow your vision and will spoil your Perseid meteor shower experience.

The internet is full of scientific data and statistics about the Perseid meteor showers with detailed magnitude studies and trends. But sometimes it’s just better to put science to the side and enjoy the sheer wonder of a shower of shooting stars. Be sure to make a wish, or two or twenty!

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