COLORADO SPRINGS — Nighttime sky watchers should keep their eyes open for what is considered the best meteor shower of the year, which peaks during mid-August.
The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most plentiful showers (50-100 meteors seen per hour) and occur with warm summer nighttime weather, according to NASA. Its peak will be on Aug. 13.
NASA characterizes Perseids as swift and bright meteors. They frequently leave long “wakes” of light and color behind them as they streak through Earth’s atmosphere.
Perseid meteors are also known for their fireballs, which are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. This is because fireballs originate from larger particles of cometary material. Fireballs are also brighter with apparent magnitudes greater than -3.
The Perseids are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere during the pre-dawn hours. However, it is possible to view meteors from this shower as early as 10 p.m.
Where Do Meteors Come From?
Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids, says NASA. When comets come around the sun, they leave a dusty trail behind them. As the Earth passes through trails of debris every year, leftover comet particles will disintigrate in the Earth’s atmosphere and create fiery, colorful streaks in the sky.
The pieces of space debris that create the Perseids originate from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, according to NASA. Swift-Tuttle takes 133 years to orbit the Sun once. In 1865, an astronomer known as Giovanni Schiaparelli, realized that this comet was the source of the Perseid meteor shower. Comet Swift-Tuttle last visited the inner solar system in 1992.
Comet Swift-Tuttle was discovered in 1862 by Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle. Swift-Tuttle is a large comet: its nucleus is 16 miles (26 kilometers) across (NASA says this is almost twice the size of the object hypothesized to have led to the demise of the dinosaurs).
Their radiant – the point in the sky from which the Perseids appear to come – is the constellation Perseus. This is also where the meteor shower gets its name: Perseids. However, the constellation for which a meteor shower is named only serves to aid viewers in determining which shower they are viewing on a given night. NASA reminds the public that the constellation is not the source of the meteors.