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Perseid Meteor Shower to Yield 80 Meteors an Hour

By: Ann Minard Posted: August-11-2009 in
Ann Minard

The Perseid meteor shower will have to fight it out with a bright moon for visibility this year, but astronomers are still predicting a dazzling show.

From any vantage point in the world, you might see more than 80 meteors an hour streak across the sky during the best viewing time, when the moon's glare will be weakest—late Tuesday night and into the wee hours of Wednesday, local cloud and lighting conditions permitting.

The highest concentration of Perseid meteors hitting Earth's atmosphere will occur during Wednesday afternoon, when they'll be largely invisible.

The Perseid sky show is "always the best annual meteor shower," said Bill Cooke, the lead for NASA's Meteoroid Environments Office in Alabama.

"Visually, the best are the Geminids. But December nights are cold, and people don't want to freeze their rears off."

Perseid Meteor Shower Viewing Tips
The moon will provide some interference for the Perseids, at just over half full and rising around midnight. The best advice: Look away from the moon—and all other lights—so your eyes stay as dark-adapted as possible.

To see the Perseid meteor shower, bring a blanket to a place away from city lights and lay on your back, taking in as much of the sky as possible.

The Perseid meteors will appear to originate in the northeastern sky, near the constellation Perseus, and to shoot off in all directions, said Brian Skiff, an astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff

"Since the radiant point is close to ... Perseus, it is common to see them streaking right along the Milky Way, even as far away as Sagittarius," he said. "After midnight, Perseus will have risen higher in the sky, and the meteors can be seen in just about any direction."

Generally no matter what time zone you live in, the best time to see this meteor shower is August 12, 2009 between midnight and dawn. Meteor showers are commonly thought to be events that occur at night, but in fact they are really morning events. Viewers can expect to see tons of meteors and in some cases up to 100 meteors per hour. The Perseids started July 17th and will be active until August 24th. You will be able to see meteors on any given night or morning

Perseids: More Than a "Geek Pickup Line"
The Perseid meteors are bits of 2,000-year-old debris left behind by the periodic comet Swift-Tuttle. Earth's atmosphere collides with the debris at more than 38 kilometers (23 miles) a second.

The meteors generally get incinerated before they can strike the ground, creating the streaks of superheated, glowing air we call shooting stars.

NASA's Cooke has made a career of studying meteors, but that wasn't always his primary reason for watching meteor showers, he said.

"It was the best way to get the girls out on a date," he said. "It was used as a geek pickup line back in my day.

Source: National Geographic


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