One of the year’s best meteor showers is here: The Perseids. What better way to start your day than to get up before dawn and marvel at cascades of shooting stars?
The 2008 Perseid meteor shower peaks on Aug. 12, but meteors will be visible for at least the day before and after. According to NASA, the source of the shower is Comet Swift-Tuttle. Although the comet is far away, currently located beyond the orbit of Uranus, a trail of debris from the comet stretches all the way back to Earth. Crossing the trail in August, Earth will be pelted by specks of comet dust hitting the atmosphere at 132,000 mph. At that speed, even a flimsy speck of dust makes a vivid streak of light when it disintegrates–a meteor!
In the United States, meteors will become visible on Monday evening, Aug. 11, around 9 p.m. (local time, for wherever you are) when Perseus first rises in the northeast. The first thing you will see are Perseid Earthgrazers; these are long, slow and colorful meteors that approach from the horizon and appear to skip across the sky. These are more rare and won’t be “showering”–but they are stunning and memorable. The lunar glare will make it hard to see many meteors, until 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 12, when the moon sets. At this point, dozens to hundreds of meteors will be visible until the sun begins to rise at dawn.
If you live in an area with urban glare, you can still see some of the meteors–but try to escape the light pollution for maximum meteor sightings. Grab a blanket, a lounge chair, and look to the northeast in the direction of Perseus. Let the beauty of the streaking sky inspire you, and be sure to make many, many wishes.