Perseid meteor shower will be extra dazzling this August
Perseid meteors, upper left, streak past time-lapse-captured stars early Tuesday morning, Aug. 13, 2013 north of Cheyenne , Wyo. The Perseids meteor shower runs from mid-July through mid-August. (AP Photo / The Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Blaine McCartney, File)
Published Thursday, July 28, 2016 8:03PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 28, 2016 11:57PM EDT
An annual summer meteor shower known for being one of the best times to spot a shooting star will be extra stellar this August thanks to a cosmic “outburst,” scientists say.
The Perseid meteor shower has been observed since ancient history and is expected to arrive this year in late July and peak on August 11 to 12, with double the usual meteors streaking through Earth’s atmosphere.
The shower happens each summer as the Earth’s orbit intersects with space debris and little bits of dust and rock are flung into the Earth’s atmosphere at an estimated 212,433 kilometres per hour. At such a velocity, the particles burst into brilliant streaks of light -- also called meteors or shooting stars.
The planet passes through the comet’s tail for several days, but Earth will enter the dustiest zone on August 11 to 12. On a clear night outside the city, stargazers can expect to see the most shooting stars in the wee hours of the morning. Perseid meteors soar past the constellation Perseus in the northeastern sky, which explains their name.
Scientists say this year’s show will be especially beautiful thanks to a particularly dusty “outburst” as the Earth passes through the debris.
“If you pass through an area of that stream that is more densely populated with that material, then that’s called an outburst,” York University astronomy and physics professor Paul Delaney told CTVNews.ca.
For stargazers looking for a show, Delaney has a few tips: head outside at least half an hour before the intended stargazing time to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark, look to the northeast sky and be patient.
“At the peak, and it’s a pretty sharply defined peak, you’re talking about 100 meteors per hour,” he said. “This year with the outburst, we could be up to 200 meteors per hour. But it’s a little hard to judge, and it depends where you are.”
The best place on Earth to watch the meteor shower in its early stages is Europe, but North America will also be in a fairly good viewing location, according to NASA researchers.
But anyone hoping for a souvenir from the shower might be stuck with photographs, as chunks of space rock typically burn up before reaching the ground, Delaney said.
“To give you a sense of scale, the debris can be from grain-sized all the way up to small pebbles. You could be lucky and have fist-sized (rock) and ever so occasionally, basketball sized,” he said.
The outbursts might be good news for astronomers, but it could be hazardous for some spacecraft. At least two satellites are believed to have been struck during previous Perseid outbursts. In fact, a telecommunications satellite that was likely hit by a Perseid meteorite in 1993 was forced to end its mission after the impact.
Anyone keen to scope out a meteor-watching site early could practice on Thursday and Friday as the Delta Aquarid meteor shower streaks through the night sky, with an estimated 15 to 20 meteors per hour.