Admin and Founder of ‘The Secrets Of The Universe’ and former intern at Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, I am a science student pursuing a Master’s in Physics from India. I love to study and write about Stellar Astrophysics, Relativity & Quantum Mechanics.
The flagship celestial event of August is here: the Perseid meteor shower. Regarded as one of the best meteor showers of the year along with the Geminids of December, the Perseids peak around August 12 every year. Here is everything you need to know about it.
What is a meteor shower?
A meteor shower is a celestial event in which many meteors appear in the sky. Meteor showers occur when the Earth comes in the stream of debris from a comet or an asteroid. Each time a comet swings by the Sun in its orbit, some of its ice vaporizes, and a certain amount of meteoroids will be shed. The meteoroids spread out along the entire orbit of the comet to form a meteoroid stream, also known as a “dust trail” (as opposed to a comet’s “gas tail” caused by the tiny particles that are quickly blown away by solar radiation pressure).
This dust trail follows the orbit of the parent comet. When Earth passes through the orbit of this dust trail, these particles interact with the atmosphere and what we see is a spectacular show of meteors: a meteor shower.
What are Perseids?
The Perseid meteor shower is an annual shower that peaks in August. The parent body associated with the Perseids is the comet 109P/Swift Tuttle. This comet has a highly eccentric orbit. Its orbit takes it outside Pluto at the farthest distance and inside that of Earth at the nearest distance. Swift Tuttle takes 133 years to orbit the Sun. Every time this comet passes through the inner solar system, the Sun warms and softens up the ices in the comet, causing it to release fresh comet material into its orbital stream.
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Every meteor shower has a point called radiant associated with it. This is the point from where all the streaks appear to originate. Although the streaks can appear anywhere in the sky, it is best to look for them near the radiant. The radiant of the Perseid meteor shower lies in the constellation of Perseus, hence the name Perseid meteor shower.
How to see the Perseid meteor shower?
The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most prominent meteor showers. Along with the Geminids of December, Perseids are the most awaited ones. This year, the shower will peak close to the New Moon. The Moon will be four days into its cycle and will set way before the meteor shower peaks. Thus, unlike last year, fainter streaks won’t be washed out by the Moonlight. The Perseids are believed to produce 120-150 streaks per hour.
The best time to catch the shower is on August 12, from midnight to dawn. However, make sure to look up in the sky on the nights of August 11, 12, and of course, 13. There are a few rules to watch the Perseids:
- There is no need of any telescope or binoculars to watch the Perseid meteor shower. Just find an open space in the dark.
- Make sure there is no artificial light pollution near your viewing spot.
- Give your eyes enough time to adapt to the darkness. It usually takes 20-30 minutes.
- If possible, relax on a lawn chair to enjoy the show of the heavens above.
- Good things always come to those who wait. So be patient while watching the shower. It takes time to spot them! Good luck.
An earthgrazer if you are lucky
If you are lucky, the evening sky might offer you an earthgrazer – a loooooong, slow, colorful meteor traveling horizontally across the sky. The best chance to catch an Earthgrazer is near the horizon.
Lastly, remember the words of a wise man: “Meteor showers are like fishing. You go. You enjoy the night air and maybe the company of friends. Sometimes you catch something.”
What’s more in August 2021?
Besides the Perseid meteor shower, the month is full of exciting astronomical events such as the Blue Moon, the opposition of Jupiter, and rare planetary conjunction. Please read this article to know the details.