Cross your fingers for good weather. The Perseid Meteor Shower is set to peak on Friday morning, and it could be the best in nearly a decade.
What’s different about this year? Usually, Earth brushes the edge of Comet Swift-Tuttle’s debris stream. It still puts on a good show, but we’re not in the thick of it. In the early hours of Friday, experts at NASA believe Earth will plow through three or more streams of debris.
The thicker debris stream is setting the stage for a Perseid outburst. A typical Perseid Meteor Shower sees rates of 100 meteors per hour during peak activity. NASA’s Bill Cooke says those rates could balloon to 200 meteors per hour.
Here’s a short time-lapse image of a Perseid outburst from August 2009.
Did You Know: Jupiter is giving the Swift-Tuttle debris stream a little nudge. Every dozen years or so, Jupiter passes close to the debris stream. When it does, its powerful gravitational field changes the path of the tiny pieces of comet just enough to put them on a more direct collision course with Earth.
Now remember. This is just a forecast. It’s not set in stone. “Here’s something to think about. The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago,” said Cooke. “And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.”
Each tiny piece of Swift-Tuttle slams into Earth’s atmosphere at 132,000 miles per hour. Most are barely the size of a grain of sand but burn at temperatures of up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit before flaring out.
Perseid Meteor Shower viewing guide
Let’s assume forecasters are right and we could see 200 meteors per hour. Most of us can’t just walk outside and see that many. You need to find a spot with little to no light pollution. That means getting as far from the city as possible.
The rural country is a good start. The best spot? Head to a state or national park.
Finding a dark spot is the hard part. After that, it’s all about getting comfortable.
With meteor showers, you don’t have to look at any particular spot in the sky. It’s all about taking in as much of the sky as possible.
The 200 meteors per hour rate are for perfect conditions. The more light pollution at your viewing spot, the fewer meteors you will see. Also, plan on being outside for a couple of hours. It’ll take 30-45 minutes just for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark.
And if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can check out a live broadcast of the Perseids at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center Ustream channel. The broadcast will kick off on August 11 at 10 pm EDT.
Featured image: Comet Swift-Tuttle. Credit: Gerald Rhemann