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Viewing the 2013 Perseid Meteor Shower

11 Aug 2013, 12:00 pm

2013 Perseid Meteor Shower

We’ve already gotten a few photos of the shooting stars, but tonight is the night to catch a glimpse of one of the most active meteor showers to impact Earth all year. If you’re up before sunrise Monday morning (unlikely, but stay with me here), you could be treated to as many as 60 meteors per hour. (Photo above courtesy Twitter friend @egrzyb)

The Big Show. Data collection is complete, charts have been drawn, and it’s official: the Perseids are the most active of the meteor showers that annually occur in our night sky. The team at NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office uses a network of meteor cameras to capture the shooting stars and keep track of  activity — they explain the science behind the numbers in this video:

(Image above: London, UK via @metrolinaszabi)

What causes meteor showers? Frequently Asked Questions.

The American Meteor Society has a terrific page that answers some common questions about meteor showers, including why they happen and tips for viewing them. This is a short excerpt from their FAQ page — find more helpful answers here:

“Most meteor showers have their origins with comets. Each time a comet swings by the sun, it produces meteoroid sized particles which will eventually spread out to form a meteoroid “stream.” If the Earth’s orbit and the comet’s orbit intersect at some point, then the Earth will pass through this stream for a few days at roughly the same time each year, encountering a meteor shower. 
Because meteor shower particles are all traveling in parallel paths, at the same velocity, they will all appear to radiate from a single point in the sky to an observer below. This radiant point is caused by the effect of perspective, similar to railroad tracks converging at a single vanishing point on the horizon when viewed from the middle of the tracks. Meteor showers are usually named for the constellation in which their radiant lies at the time of shower maximum. Thus, the Perseid meteor shower (peaking about August 12) will appear to radiate from the constellation of Perseus.
Meteor shower rates are highly variable, with the number of shower meteors seen following a curve of activity which usually lasts several days. “

A Light Show Courtesy of Swift (Tuttle, not Taylor). 

The Christian Science Monitor has a great write-up explaining a little more about the comet responsible for the Perseid meteor shower — Swift-Tuttle.

“A comet called Swift-Tuttle orbits the sun every 133 years, and Earth just happens to cross its orbital path once a year. When Earth crosses that path, it plows through the bits and pieces that have broken off Swift-Tuttle as the comet moves around the sun.
Scientists estimate that most meteors during the Perseid shower are the size of sand grains. The largest are the size of a marble.
Will Swift-Tuttle hit Earth? Scientists have forecast that Earth and Swift-Tuttle will have a near-miss (by cosmic standards) in 3044, when the two will swing within 1 million miles of each other. Asteroid 2012 DA14, which is 150 feet wide, caused a stir when it came within 17,500 miles of Earth in February. Swift-Tuttle is 16 miles across – roughly the same size as the asteroid thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Swift-Tuttle’s last closest approach to Earth was in 1992. The Perseids were particularly intense that year, as well as a few years preceding and following. Its next rendezvous with Earth will occur in 2126. It was discovered by two different astronomers working independently, Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle, during a close approach in 1862.”  
Read more from them here:

Stargazing 101: Meteor Showers

Generally, the best time to view shooting stars is shortly before sunrise. During the next few nights the moon will be in its crescent phase, allowing for slightly darker skies. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory shares a few more viewing tips (and also gives an update on Comet ISON) in this video:

 Light Pollution Can Become a Problem.

 Curious if you’ll have too many city lights to contend with tonight? The Blue Marble Navigator has an interactive Google Map that allows you to zoom in on your area and see the light pollution that could hamper your stargazing efforts. It’s also fun to play around with it and see where the largest hubs of nighttime activity are around the world. Check it out here:

CloudCast Across the Country.

Of course, if the sky isn’t clear, you won’t see any meteors at all. This is the cloud cover  forecast for 5 AM EDT Monday morning (prime time for meteor viewing). Map above courtesy

Remember — if you get some photos, we’d love to see them! Email them to us directly at Have a fantastic week ahead! -Meteorologist Miranda Hilgers

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