August 12th, 2009, the Perseids Meteor Shower will be visible in the skies of the Northern hemisphere. Perseids has been observed annually for the past 2000 years. It can be seen starting in mid-July, but has the greatest activity August 8 through the 14th, peaking on the 12th.
* What Is a Meteor Shower? *
Meteor showers are actually a cloud of particles that result from the icy, dusty debris shed by comets as they orbit the sun. When the Earth moves through this stream of debris, we are able to see the fragments as meteors, or shooting stars.
Shooting stars" or "falling stars, those bright streaks of light that shoot across the night sky, are not stars at all, but are caused by small bits of rock and debris (meteoroids) colliding and burning in the Earth's upper atmosphere. These rocks are moving at a high rate of speed; thousands of miles an hour. When they encounter the Earth's atmosphere, the friction causes them to burn, 30 to 80 miles above the ground.
Most meteors are burned up as they move through the Earth's atmosphere. It's very rare for any portion of a meteor to survive the intense heat long enough to actually make it to Earth. When parts of a meteor do hit our terra firma, the space rock is then referred to as a meteorite.
* What Is the Perseids Meteor Shower? *
Perseids is the debris of the comet Swift-Tuttle. It gets its name from the area of the sky that the meteors appear from, within the constellation Perseus. During the peak of Earth's interaction with the Perseid cloud, the rate of visible meteors can reach 60 or more per hour. The best time to view Perseids this year, is between midnight and dawn, then again late in the evening of August 12th.
* How to View a Meteor Shower *
The bright lights of cities make it more difficult to view the night sky. So if you live in, or near, a city, drive to a more rural location, in the direction of the constellation from which the meteors appear. So to view the Perseids meteor shower, drive in the direction of the constellation Perseus, which rises in the northeast at approximately 11 p.m. in mid-August.
Once you have found a good, dark spot to observe the skies from, lay back so that the sky fills your field of view. From this position, any meteors that streak by will easily capture your attention. You don't need to use binoculars. Your eyes alone are the best equipment for seeing the entire night sky.
To learn more about the Perseids Meteor shower, see:
* Star Date Online: 2009 Meteor Showers and Viewing Tips
* Skyscrapers, Inc. 2009 Meteor Showers
* Time-lapse Video of the Perseids Meteor Shower
Photo: Perseids Meteor Shower by Mila Zinkova.