The annual Perseid meteor shower is typically one of the year’s best. In 2006, this shower occurs with the Moon shining brightly. But while the number of visible meteors may be down a bit from previous years, viewers can still see the bright ones easily. The Perseid meteor shower is characterized by bright, fast meteors, many of which leave smoke trails visible for several seconds.
The Perseids will reach their activity peak around 6 p.m. EDT on Saturday, August 12. This is a real plus for getting friends and family out to the show.
How to see shooting stars
August 12 isn’t the only date to observe Perseid meteors. This year, the shower will be active between about July 30 and August 25. Of course, fewer meteors will be visible further away from the August 12 peak.
Viewers need a clear, dark sky to see more than just a few Perseids. “Dark” means at least 40 miles from the lights of a large city. No telescope is required — in fact, the eyes alone work best.
Early in the evening August 12, set up a lawn chair, preferably one that reclines. Face east, and look a third to half of the way up in the sky. After the Moon rises, observers should adjust their chairs to face away from the Moon, and look generally overhead. When the Moon’s disk enters the field of view (around 2 a.m. local time), viewers should turn their chairs back to the east, and concentrate on an area of sky about halfway up. Glancing around won’t hurt anything.
Important items to remember when watching for shooting stars include bug spray, cookies, fruit, and a non-alcoholic beverage. Alcohol interferes with the eye’s dark-adaption as well as the visual perception of events.
How many Perseids will people see? This year, even with a bright Moon in the sky, expect to count between 20 and 30 meteors per hour.
* If one traces all the meteor trails backward, they would meet within the boundaries of the constellation Perseus, the hero who, in Greek mythology, slew the Gorgon Medusa. This location also gives the shower its name.
* Comet Swift-Tuttle created the Perseid meteor shower. The comet was discovered in 1862, but people observed the meteor shower before knowing what produced it.
* Comet Swift-Tuttle returned in 1992. As it swung around the Sun, it added to the Perseid particle stream.
* Perseid meteors are fast — they move at 125,000–145,000 mph (200,000–235,000 km/h) — and many leave smoke trails that can last several seconds.
* Many Perseids are also bright. Usually, Perseid meteors are white or bluish-white.
* Meteors come from small particles of rock and metal that Earth encounters (runs into) during its orbit around the Sun. In space, these particles are called meteoroids. When they burn up in the atmosphere, they are called meteors.
* Particles that survive the fiery passage through our thick blanket of air and land on Earth are then known as meteorites. Meteor showers do not increase the number of meteorites — the particles are too small.
Interesting facts about meteors
* To be visible, a meteor must be within about 120 miles (200 kilometers) of an observer.
* Meteors become visible at an average height of 55 miles (90 km). Nearly all burn up before they reach an altitude of 50 miles (80 km).
* The typical bright meteor is produced by a particle with a mass less than 1 gram with a size no larger than a pea.
* The average total mass of meteoritic material entering Earth’s atmosphere is estimated to be between 100 and 1,000 tons (91,000–910,000 kilograms) per day.
* The hourly rate on a “non-shower” night is approximately 6 meteors per hour.
* A meteoroid enters the atmosphere at velocities between 50,000 and 165,000 mph (81,000–265,000 km/h).
From Astronomy Magazine