The annual Perseid meteor shower is scheduled to peak on the nights of August 11th and 12th (Thursday and Friday). Normally, with the right conditions you can see up to 60 shooting stars every hour, but there’s a possibility that this year will be special, with an rare outburst of meteors that will light up the sky in a way you’ve never seen.
The Perseids are debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the Sun every 133 years. When it gets close to the Sun, the heat from our star turns the ices in the comet into gas, forming the long tail. Small bits of rocky debris also slough off and trail behind the comet. When the Earth plows into these, they burn up in our atmosphere to form the shower.
However, they’re not alone in space. Jupiter’s gravity tugs on the stream of particles, causing their orbits to shift. Sophisticated computer simulations indicate that this year, the Earth should be plowing through a denser than usual part of the stream, creating as many as 200 shooting stars per hour!
So mark your calendars, and check out Phil Plait’s meteor shower viewing guide for the best Perseid experience at Bad Astronomy. Don’t miss the part about the weird sounds caused by meteors.
(Image creditL: NASA)