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Weather forecasting and analysis, space and historic events, climate information

1:00 PM | Perseid meteor shower has begun and will peak Monday night/Tuesday morning

Paul Dorian

Discussion

The annual Perseid meteor shower has already begun and it will peak next Monday night and early Tuesday morning (8/12-13). The Perseid meteor shower comes every August as the Earth passes through a cloud of dust that comes from Comet Swift-Tuttle as it approaches the sun. Earth's gravity pulls in some of the chunks of debris — small rocks comprised of iron-nickel, stone, other minerals or a combination of these — which turn into bright balls of hot gas when entering Earth's atmosphere. As darkness falls, the meteors appear to come from the constellation Perseus, hence the name; although late in the evening, the meteors originate higher in the sky than the constellation.

Perseid meteoroids hit our atmosphere at ~132,000 mph to produce the annual light show and this particular meteor shower is usually rich in “fireballs” because of the size of the parent comet. Comet Swift-Tuttle has a huge nucleus – about 26 kilometers in diameter whereas most other comets are much smaller with nuclei only a few kilometers across. As a result, Comet Swift-Tuttle produces a large number of meteoroids, many of which are large enough to produce fireballs. In fact, the Perseid meteor shower is considered the “fireball champion” of all of the annual meteor showers.

The best time to look during the peak is between the hours of 11pm (Monday night) and 5am (Tuesday morning) far away from city lights. In dark locations with clear skies, the Perseid meteor rate could top 100 per hour. Typically, the meteors are only the size of pebbles, some as small as a grain of sand. This should be a good year for viewing, weather permitting, as there will be little interference from a waxing crescent moon. This year’s display is extra special because Jupiter, Venus and the crescent moon align just as the Perseids peak. The alignment occurs in the eastern sky before sunrise on the mornings of the highest meteor activity.