Star gazers will be treated to an extra special celestial display as the Earth ploughs through a dense cloud of debris and 80 or more meteors streak across the sky every hour. The annual Perseid meteor shower will peak on Thursday night / Friday morning.
Experts have reported that this year’s display will be more dramatic than usual as the Perseids reach the high point of their 12-year cycle. Also Planet Jupiter has shifted the debris stream so that more of it lies in the Earth’s path, which will also boost the meteor count. Also the moon will set just after midnight bringing full darkness to the skies.
These meteors (popularly known as “shooting stars”) are the result of small particles, some as small as a grain of sand, entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed. The Perseids have been observed for around 2,000 years.
The tail of the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992, leaves such debris in the Earth’s path. On entering the atmosphere, at 36.66 kilometers per second, these particles heat the air around them, causing the characteristic streak of light seen from the ground.
NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke provided some amazing food for thought:
“The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago…And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.”
This year the display is set to be the best in 12 years. Robin Scagell, the Vice President of the Society for Popular Astronomy in Britain told the Irish Examiner that “every 12 years the Perseids are slightly stronger, and this year you could expect to see about 80 of them every hour under the best conditions, or more probably one a minute.
“They’re fairly swift and dash across the sky quite quickly leaving trains behind them.”
Cooke has said an “outburst” this year could result in 150 to 200 of the shooting stars, per hour. He said “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”
Scagell disagrees saying this figure is more likely to be around 80.
This year Astronomy Ireland is inviting people in Ireland part in a Nationwide Perseid Watch by simply counting the number of shooting stars they see every 15 minutes.
According to their site “The best night to watch the meteor show is Thursday night, but you can observe on any night around this date.
“You also do not need a telescope or any special equipment to view the Perseids.”
To really get a good look at the meteors you should find somewhere away from streetlights with a good view of the sky (away from trees or tall buildings). Where plenty of clothes and temperatures will be low at that time of night. Also don’t forget a blanket so you can lie back and relax.
Here’s some incredible time-lapse footage and photography taken at Yosemite Park: