Observe the Perseid Meteor Shower at its peak, Aug. 11-12
The Perseid Meteor Shower, typically one of the most popular and impressive meteor showers of the year, will reach its peak Aug. 11 and 12. For this event, which is visible throughout Northeast Ohio, Planetarium Specialist Bill Reed of Lake Erie Nature & Science Center explains what a meteor shower is and provide tips for seeing “shooting stars” this summer.
What is a meteor shower and what causes them to occur?
Meteor showers are caused by comets. Comets are large, icy objects which orbit the sun on regular, although eccentric orbits. As a comet approached the inner solar system and passes closer to the sun, its ice warms and begins to release particles of dust and rock into space, which can result in a glowing trail of vapor we see as a “tail.”
Meteor showers occur when meteoroids – the rocks and debris left behind by a comet – enter the Earth's atmosphere. Meteoroids are almost always small enough to quickly burn up in our atmosphere, so there is little chance they will strike Earth's surface.
Meteors, commonly known as "shooting stars," are the streaks of light we see in the sky when a meteoroid burns up in the Earth's atmosphere.
How can I observe the Perseid Meteor Shower?
Every year, Earth passes through the debris trail of Comet 109PSwift-Tuttle which results in the Perseids shower that peaks around early to mid-August.
Meteor showers are named after the location of their radiant. A radiant is the area of the sky in which the meteors appear to originate. To observe the Perseid Meteor Shower at its peak, look northeast toward the constellation Perseus the evening of Aug. 11 or the early morning of Aug. 12. Perseus will gradually rise in the night sky and reach optimal observing just before sunrise. Although it is difficult to forecast the intensity of the shower, on a good year, there could be as many as 150-200 per hour. Having said that, this year may not be as spectacular due to a full moon brightening the sky.
Tips for seeing the Perseid Meteor Shower
Head to a dark, clear area with minimal light pollution (excessive or inappropriate use of outdoor artificial light). Avoid looking at your phone, as it takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to full darkness.
Lake Erie Nature & Science Center will host monthly Telescope Night programs this summer. Join Bill Reed for evenings under the stars, beginning with an overview of the constellations, planets, and current events in Schuele Planetarium. Weather permitting, telescope viewing will be available with the Center’s 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. Upcoming program: Saturday, Aug. 20, at 8 p.m. Fee: $10/person.
To learn more and register for Lake Erie Nature & Science Center programming, visit www.lensc.org.
Morgan Paskert is on staff at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center.