For those who enjoy heavenly activity, the annual Perseid Meteor Shower brings a sky full of falling stars late each summer. Prime viewing time is just before dawn each day, when the celestial light show reaches its peak. Luckily for those interested is catching some of 2013’s show, the Perseid Meteor Shower lasts several weeks, although its most active day was August 12, which has just passed. Don’t let that cause dismay, there’s still plenty of great things to see in the immediate days ahead.
What is the Perseid Meteor Shower?
The Perseid Meteor Shower is actually mis-named for the constellation Perseus, the approximate location of where the light show can be seen in the night sky each year. While that makes sense, the actual event has nothing to do with the constellation itself and is instead the result of cosmic debris from the Swift-Tuttle Comet. According to Chiff.com, “Each year, the earth passes through the debris cloud left by the comet when the earth’s atmosphere is bombarded by what is popularly known as ‘falling stars.’”
While they appear to be stunningly bright objects flying across the sky, in reality these bits of debris are very small (some no larger than grains of sand). No matter, it is the beauty of the event that captivates the human spirit.
Visibility for 2013
Due to the position of the earth as it enters the debris cloud, viewing of the Perseid Meteor Shower is much more visible in the Northern Hemisphere. The event can first be seen best to the north in Canada at the end of July. For the United States and Europe, the meteor shower peaks mid-August and continues through the month.
For those who have bad weather or live in areas rich with city light, online viewing via webcast from sites such as Space.com is another option.
Visibility may be limited by the moon and/or weather. Those who are able to find a clear sky (preferably uncluttered by the light of cityscapes) will be rewarded by a rash of falling stars that can appear at a rate of some 60 to 100 meteors an hour during peak viewing time, according to Space.com. The less light available (from the moon or other man-made sources), the more easily viewed and the more numerous the meteors will appear.
For those who enjoy making this a group event, pack lawn chairs, bug spray, food, drink and blankets and head outside of the city. Think Fourth of July fireworks created for you by Mother Nature herself.
How to view the event
In addition to the general absence of light, the moon, clouds or mist, using a telescope, binoculars or camera may aid in watching the event. Of course, the Perseid Meteor Shower is visible to the naked eye, but these tools may enhance viewing for some. While scientists advise simply using the naked eye and looking to the northeast, some “telescopic” meteors can be seen better with use of a telescope, camera with a telescopic lens or simple pair of binoculars.
For those who wish to capture the event via photography, it helps to have a quick trigger finger, or in lieu of that, to simply click the camera (preferably located on a tripod) at a random time during an active phase of the Perseid Meteor Shower. (Even this is likely to capture a meteor or two.) For the most spectacular results, have the camera set to infinity and leave the shutter open for several minutes.
Miss the Perseids?
For those who fear they may have missed the optimal days for viewing the Perseid Meteor Shower, there’s always next year. And certainly, this is not the only annual event of its kind. Check StarDate.com for other meteor showers and locations. Up next, the Orionids in October!