August 13 – Perseid Meteor Shower

Posted August 13, 2013

This is what I wish all meteors looked like--
but a meteor this bright is rare. (Good thing,
too, or we would have big chunks of space
rock falling on our heads all the time!)
Hopefully you have been enjoying the meteor shower this week. 

This yearly meteor shower is probably the favorite of the year for Northern-Hemisphere types because it occurs in August, a time when many are out of school and on vacation. Those who are smart enough to vacation in wilderness areas have darker skies than those still in urban areas—and dark skies are of course the best kind of skies for seeing meteors!

You probably already know that annual meteor showers occur when Earth passes through the orbit of a comet. In this case, we are passing through the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle. Every time this comet circles the sun, once every 133 years, more of its ices melt, and more dust and debris is released into its orbit. The last time we got to see the parent of the Perseid shower was December of 1992—and the next time somebody will get to see it (surely not me, but maybe you!) will be July of 2126.

(Actually, this comet doesn't actually circle the sun, because its orbit is a long, skinny oval—or elliptical—shape. Long elliptical orbits are common among comets.)

This is what I wish a meteor shower looked
like. However, if you get in a great spot,
where you can see a lot of sky and you don't
have much light pollution, you will still
probably only see one meteor at a time,
and up to 50 meteors per hour at best!
The meteors we see as streaks of bright light in the dark sky are bits of dust and other cometary materials hitting Earth's atmosphere at high speeds and then burning up because of friction. And when I say “high speeds,” I mean up to 130,000 miles per hour (210,000 km/hr)!!!

(The fastest you've ever traveled, I bet, is around 500 mph, in an airplane. So they are traveling about 260 times your top speed!)

For more info on this meteor shower, and viewing tips, check out this article in EarthSky. 

To learn more about meteors in general, check out Kids Astronomy-dot-com

You might enjoy taking this quiz about comets and meteors. The good news about Quiz Your Noodle is, if you don't know the answer to a question, you find out the answer—and a short explanation, too! The more you know, the higher your score, but the less you know, the more you learn. It's a win-win! 

Also on this date:

Plan ahead:

Here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.

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