The Perseid Meteor Shower Updated for 2012; Perseids, perseid meteors, perseids, Key Dates: August 12, 2012 and August 12, 2012; meteor; When to Watch; Where to Look in the Sky; Where to Watch From; How to Watch; What to Expect; Perseus
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The Perseid Meteors: Nature's Cosmic Fireworks


For several weeks in early August, Earth will be bombarded by lots of extra-terrestrial debris. But you need not worry – most of it will be dust particles that burn up in Earth's atmosphere as meteors. Indeed, August is the best time to witness the meteor shower called the Perseid.

Parents can take advantage of this opportunity to introduce their children to one of the wonders of our solar system: shooting stars. Or check out Jupiter Scientific's Virtual Astronomy page for a "virtual" journey through the Universe.


When to Watch:

In 2012, the best time to observe the Perseids is from 1-5 am during the mornings of Sunday, August 12 (Note that this is the night that starts on Saturday, August 11). If you do not want to watch during sleeping hours, try observing on the evening of Saturday, August 11 and Sunday, August 12. You should be able to see a handful of meteors if the sky is clear. To see the best observation times in your location, see meteor flux estimator. This year, the Moon is a crescent that sets after midnight, and moonlight will not interfere too much with viewing.

Clouds prevent one from seeing meteors so that if you are particularly keen in wanting to see the Perseids this year, then adopt the following strategy: Try to watch during the night of August 11-12; If clouds are present, then try for August 12-13.

If it is cloudy on both nights, you might want to check out the Aurigids that peak on September 1.

Where to Look in the Sky:

The meteors will radiate from the constellation Perseus, which, in North America, rises in the evening in the northeast. You need not look in this direction, however. The Perseids are noted for their long trails and should streak across much of the night sky. Look anywhere from 30 degrees to 80 degrees above the horizon and about 45 degrees away from the constellation Perseus.

Where to Watch From:

The best place to observe meteors is in an open area (a field, a golf course, etc.) that is unobstructed by trees or other structures and that is far away from lights (streetlights, city lights, etc.). The darker the sky the better. Thin clouds or mist will greatly reduce the number of meteors that one can see. If there are clouds, don't stay up.

How to Watch:

It is best to lie in a reclining chair. Otherwise, lie on a blanket with a pillow. It is easy to get a stiff neck if one is sitting vertically or standing. Bring a sweater just in case it gets chilly. Don't use binoculars or telescopes – just gaze at the heavens with your eyes. You will see streaks of light shooting across the black sky. You will see most meteors directly; but you will sometimes see others out of the corner of your eye. If you are very lucky, you will witness a fireball, a very bright meteor with a small disk. Some fireballs break into several fragments.

What to Expect:

Every year, the Perseid provides amateur astronomers with a delightful natural display. With excellent viewing conditions, you should see about one meteor per minute at the peak! Even if you are not observing under optimal circumstances, which is likely to be the case, you can expect to see about 25 meteors per hour.

General Information about Meteors

Meteors are solar system material (dust, grains, pebbles, rocks, etc.) that enters Earth's atmosphere and burns up. Since, visually, meteors look like stars streaking across the sky, they are commonly called "shooting stars." If a meteor is sufficiently large, part of it may survive and strike the Earth, in which case it is called a meteorite. Meteorites provide astronomers with useful information about our solar system. (The solar system consists of the Sun, the planets and all the other objects in this region such as comets and asteroids.)

Particularly prolific periods for meteors are called meteor showers. They typically occur at specific times of the year. The reason for this is simple. Certain regions of our solar system have high concentrations of debris. Each time the Earth passes through such a region during its journey around the Sun, a meteor shower takes place. Many of these meteoroid regions are created from the passing of a comet. This is the case for the Perseids. Every year in early August, Earth enters a region of outer space with significant numbers of meteoroids. This solar system debris has been created by Comet P/Swift-Tuttle.

Morning is a better time for observing meteors than evening because the morning night sky faces the region of outer space that the Earth is moving toward. Click here to see a picture of the situation.

For more information about meteors told in spiritual language, see the fifteenth book of planetology of The Bible According to Einstein.

(Comets, by the way, are bodies made of ices, dust and rocks. When they approach the Sun, they melt somewhat. The solar wind then blows material off the comet to create its tail. Observationally, a comet near Earth looks like a hazy ball with a long wispy tail. Comets are created in the Oort cloud in the outer regions of our solar system when they are knocked toward the Sun. For more information about comets, see the fourteenth book of planetology of The Bible According to Einstein.)

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