Hey folks, Michael back again for this week’s theme on the Perseid meteor shower.
Did you go out and see the comet last month? This beautiful picture below was taken right beside me by my friend Claude when we were on Kits Beach. The bright coma was visible to the naked eye, and even the wispy tail too, but hang on I thought this week's theme was the Perseids? Aren’t meteors and comets different? Well they are, but they are connected in a really cool way!
Image Credit: Claude Schneider
So, to understand meteor showers, we need to understand comets. A comet is made up of a whole bunch of debris that has trapped lots of different frozen gasses.
Image Credit: JPL/NASA/ ESA
They generally reside in the far reaches of our solar system, unlike asteroids, as you learnt from Rachel in a previous blog, which reside in the inner solar system, and are more solid. Comets have these really long elliptical orbits which means sometimes we discover new ones that modern humans have never seen before, like Comet NEOWISE, which last visited Earth 6,700 years ago!
So, if we look back at the comet, we see that beautiful long tail, which is the comet releasing some of the trapped gasses and debris as it moves towards and away from the Sun.
Image Credit: Claude Schneider
Here is where we finally get to meteor showers; because all of that rocky debris that the comet has left in its wake is just floating in an area of space close to the Earth, and when the Earth moves through that path, we get increased meteor activity that we call a shower.
Meteors fall into our atmosphere every day, as space is filled with little chunks of rock, but it’s these “showers” that give you the best chance to “wish upon a falling star”. The Perseid meteor shower is associated with the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle which last passed us in 1992.
So, to view the Perseid meteor shower, you don’t need a telescope or any special equipment. You just need to find a nice wide-open dark space and lay down looking northeast where the constellation Perseus is. If you have a star gazing app on your phone you could use that to orient yourself, but as much as possible try not to look at your phone as it will ruin your dark adaption. After about 20-30 minutes your eyes will adjust to the dark and you’ll be able to see the fainter meteors.
Vancouver’s night sky August 12 at about 11 pm
The Perseids lasts from July 17 – August 24, 2020 and the peak will be around midnight on August 12th. Depending on what the weather is like, and how dark of a spot you are in, will determine how many meteors you might see. In perfect conditions maybe around 60-80 an hour, but in my experience in a dark city park probably closer to 10-20.
Below are some resources to help you get ready for a night of viewing. Have fun looking up everyone and make some wishes!
Watch the National Geographic video Meteor Showers 101 to discover more about these dazzling light shows the universe puts on every year.
Ask yourself: What’s something you are curious to learn more about meteor showers?
Delve deeper into the constellation Perseus where the Perseid meteor shower appears to radiate from.
Junior astronomers: Read the ancient Greek myth about the hero Perseus.
Senior astronomers: Read the ancient Greek myth about the hero Perseus and explore the major stars and deep space objects the constellation Perseus is home to.
Ask yourself: Why do you think the ancient Greeks made up stories about the stars they saw in the sky?
Check out some meteor shower trivia you can use to impress friends and family late at night or early in the morning while you’re out hunting for shooting stars.
Junior astronomers: meteor shower trivia
Senior astronomers: meteor shower trivia
Ask yourself: Which fact surprised you the most?
Find the best time and date to see the Perseids from where you are.
Ask yourself: Besides timing and location, is there anything else you can think of that is important to keep in mind when going meteor hunting?
Get involved with the Fireballs in the Sky citizen science initiative by reporting your own meteor sightings to scientists . They will use your reports to track the trajectories of meteors from their orbit in space to where they might have landed on Earth.
Ask yourself: What do you think scientists can learn by studying meteors?