Various meteor showers appear in the night skies throughout the year in most months. Some showers are more prominent than others, and the level of visibility may vary from year-to-year depending upon weather conditions and the moon's cycle at a given time.
The Perseids meteor shower is a celestial display that makes an annual appearance each summer. It is considered to be one of the best meteor shower showings of the year with its large spans of light shooting across the night skies.
What is the Perseids meteor shower?
The Perseids showers arrive in August each year with consistency, usually around the second week of the month. Originating from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, the showers are so prominent in August because this is the time the Swift-Tuttle comet passes closest to the Earth, leaving behind a stream of brightly-lit comet debris, which is what stargazers actually are seeing when they view meteor showers. Once this debris enters Earth's atmosphere, it is then called a meteor.
Its name originates from the fact the meteors appear to fall from a location within the constellation Perseus.
Facts about Comet Swift-Tuttle
As indicated, Comet Swift-Tuttle is responsible for the spectacular celestial show Perseids gives each summer. It is a comet that was discovered over 150 years ago and has a nucleus about six miles (9.7 kilometers) wide. The comet moves very fast and generates a lot of heat.
While fast-moving, it also has a long and distant path around the Sun, making its appearance on rare occasions. While its meteors are seen annually, the comet itself is not. The last time it was observed was in 1992 and it is expected to make a comeback in 2126.
For a time it was believed Comet Swift-Tuttle would collide with the earth in future, but after discovering some ancient sightings, the calculations were revised and experts now believe it will be a closer view. However, while its discovering is said to be in 1862, the comet has been traced back approximately 2,000 years. Additional research has led experts to believe the comet was observed in 188 AD and possibly even back to 69 BC.
Optimal viewing time for Perseids
Perseids meteor shower is fast and the debris travels at approximately 133,200 miles per hour (60 kilometers per second). Additionally, this meteor shower is known to shoot 50 to 100 meteors an hour at peak times. Its optimal viewing time is often noted to be in the early predawn hours. As Stardate.org notes, the Perseus constellation rises in the northeast approximately 11 p.m. during Perseids' annual visit, so later on as the night hours tick away, it is probable a better view can be attained.
Stargazers can use binoculars or a telescope to view Perseids, but the naked eye will usually have no troubles spotting its meteors. These August meteor showers are typically so bright, when weather permits, the best views can likely be gotten by spreading out a blanket in an area where the night skies are not obstructed by city lights and lying down on the blanket looking up.
Perseids is a shower that arrives each year with high levels of reliability. If you missed the show in 2013, keep an eye out for August 2014. If you catch it, chances are you'll see some of the prettiest celestial fireworks that will arrive during the year.