Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

11 08 2009
A 19th century engraving of a meteor shower.

A 19th century engraving of a meteor shower.

Tonight, between midnight and dawn, look up! The Perseid Meteor Shower, created by the passage of Earth through the debris tail of the comet Swift-Tuttle, peaks soon! For the past few days the Earth has been traveling through the trail of dusty debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle. As pieces of dust from the comet pass through our atmosphere, friction between the particles and the gasses of our atmosphere heat them up until they glow. The result is beautiful streaks of light across the night sky. Well tonight we pass through the thickest part of the debris field, and the show should be great. If you are a night owl or you just want an astronomical show, take a trip to a dark area away from artificial lights and with good sky visibility. Look north-east and you should start seeing meteors flashing overhead! Make sure there isn’t a thick cloud cover in your area, though, or else you may find yourself up late for no good reason!

-Neil

Update 9/16: I’ve been seeing a lot of visitors to this article lately. I’m guessing you all are looking for information about the “September Perseids.” This time last year there was a bright and unexpected display of meteors radiating from the constellation Perseus. This year, it looks like a repeat is not in the cards. However, the odds of seeing meteors is better than an average night, so if you’re up late (at least past midnight – the closer to dawn, the better), you may as well go outside and take a look. Let me know if you see anything, and good luck!

Update 10/21/09: All you folks viewing this article today, I expect you’re after info about the current meteor shower caused by dusty debris from Halley’s Comet. That is the Orionid meteor shower, and you can find a brief discussion of the event here. The main thing you need to know is that when you’re looking for meteors, try to face yourself towards the constellation Orion – that is where they will seem to originate from. Happy Hunting, and why not leave a comment if you see a cool one?

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3 responses

7 11 2009
Roger Diggle

While orienting toward the radiant isn’t a bad idea when watching a meteor shower, it’s not important to do so – except possibly when the radiant is rising or setting. At any other time, the meteors can appear virtually anywhere in the sky – often far from the radiant. Meteors farther from the radiant tend to leave trails that appear longer, since meteors close to the radiant have foreshortened trails.

It’s more important to orient looking away from sources of light pollution – especially the moon if it’s up. If possible, orient so these light sources are blocked from your visual field by objects in your surroundings. This will encourage your pupils to open a bit wider, and allow seeing fainter meteors. Orient toward the holes in the clouds, if any. Orient so that the place where you are lying is comfortable. Aaahhh!

The radiant itself is only of serious interest if you’re trying to sort out meteors that don’t belong to the shower. Interesting, but not something the ordinary observer is likely to do.

13 11 2009
fascinatingscience

Thank you for the insightful commentary!! I will add this information to future reminders of impending meteor showers.

17 11 2009
James Norman

I live in Seal Beach so i walked out on the Burm and layed down on my back and saw 6 of them in total in about 5 minutes, one of which was huge and had pieces break off of it. i heard the peak was supposed to be at 4am? is this true? if so im staying up.

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