Washington: The Perseid meteor shower, an annual celestial event, is all set to return on Wednesday night. It is predicted to reach its peak before dawn on Thursday (August 12) though the display could put on a fine show for a night or two before and after. Also, it is believed that this year`s conditions are as near to perfect as can be.
The waxing crescent Moon sets around 10 p.m. local time, meaning dark, Moonless skies until dawn. Astronomy lovers can catch the best glimpses of meteors soon after evening twilight ends. By then the shower`s radiant — its perspective point of origin in the constellation Perseus — has risen above the northeastern horizon.
The few Perseids that appear this early will be spectacularly long “earthgrazers” that skim along the top of the atmosphere. The higher the radiant, the more meteors you`ll see — so when Perseus climbs higher in the northeast, especially after midnight, more meteors will appear all over the sky.
One does not need any equipment to enjoy the Perseid meteor shower. All you just have to do is to find a dark spot away from bright lights with a wide-open view all around if possible. According to Diana Hannikainen, Sky & Telescope`s Observing Editor, comfort plays an important role in order to enjoy the show in the best way.
“You`ll want to make yourself comfortable to fully enjoy the show — craning your neck for many hours can ruin your experience,” Diana Hannikainen said. Bring a reclining lawn chair or a ground cloth so you can lie back.
Bundle up in blankets or a sleeping bag, both for mosquito shielding and for warmth; clear nights can grow surprisingly chilly, even in August. Next, relax, be patient, and let your eyes adapt to the darkness.
“These `shooting stars` can appear anywhere and everywhere in the sky — you don`t have to look toward the radiant to see them. So the best direction to watch is wherever your sky is darkest, usually straight up,” Diana Hannikainen added.
Faint Perseids appear as tiny, quick streaks. Occasional brighter ones might sail across the sky for several seconds and leave a brief train of glowing smoke. When you see a meteor, trace its path back to its origin. If you eventually come to the constellation Perseus (see the accompanying sky chart), you`ve just witnessed a Perseid.
Occasionally you might spot an interloper. The weaker Delta Aquariid and Kappa Cygnid showers are also active during Perseid season, and there are always a few random, “sporadic” meteors too. All of these come from other parts of the sky.
It`s a fun exercise to trace meteors back to their radiants: If the tracks don`t lead you to Perseus, they aren`t Perseids! Any light pollution or cloudiness will cut down the number of meteors visible. But the brightest ones shine right through light pollution (though usually not through clouds).
In fact, a NASA analysis of all-sky images taken from 2008 to 2013 shows that the Perseids deliver more bright meteors (those that outshine any star) than any other annual meteor shower.
For the unversed, meteors are caused by tiny, sand grain- to pea-size bits of dusty debris striking the top of Earth`s atmosphere roughly 80 miles (130 km) up. Each Perseid zips in at 37 miles per second, glowing as it burns to soot and creating a quick, white-hot streak of superheated air.
The nuggets in Grape Nuts cereal are a close match to the estimated size, color, and texture of typical meteor-shower particles. The Perseid bits were shed long ago by Comet Swift-Tuttle and are distributed all along the comet`s orbital path around the Sun.
Earth passes through this tenuous “river of rubble” every year in mid-August. The comet is so named because it was independently discovered by Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle in July 1862.