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The most spectacular meteor shower of the year peaks this week — here’s how to watch – Business Insider


perseid meteor shower andres nieto porras flickr cc by sa 2
Andrés
Nieto Porras/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)


  • The Perseid meteor shower occurs each year in late
    summer.
  • This year, the astronomical event peaks on Friday,
    Saturday, and Sunday.
  • A bright moon will make seeing the meteors more
    challenging, but NASA says stargazers can expect to see one
    every couple of minutes.

Right now, Earth is plowing through a cloud of tiny bits of comet
dust, turning the rice-grain-size debris into what many call
shooting stars.

Known as the Perseid meteor shower, this recurring astronomical
event is easily the most watched —
and beautiful
— shower every year.

The Perseids in 2017 is from July 13 until August 26, and it will
peak in the late evening and early morning on Friday, Saturday,
and Sunday, according to EarthSky.org.

Some websites have claimed that there will be more visible
meteors per minute this year than at any other time in nearly a
century, but experts say this is hogwash.

“This year, we are expecting enhanced rates of about 150 per hour
or so, but the increased number will be cancelled out by the
bright moon, the light of which will wash out the fainter
Perseids,” Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment
Office, wrote in a blog post on
Thursday. “A meteor every couple of minutes is good, and
certainly worth going outside to look, but it is hardly the
‘brightest shower in human history.'”

How to watch

This year’s conditions will be challenging for two reasons.

First, there’ll be a waning gibbous moon — the full moon will
have just ended, but it will still be full and bright.

Second, the moon will rise in the evening and set near dawn.
Normally the best time to watch for meteors is after the moon
sets. TimeAndDate.com has a convenient moonrise and moonset tool to find out
when that will happen in your location. In New York, for example,
the moon will set at around 6:44 a.m. on Tuesday.


perseid meteor shower
Kartik
Ramanathan on Flickr


Given this year’s conditions, the best time to head outside is
between midnight and dawn. The closer to dawn the better — though
twilight begins to eat up the dark sky a couple of hours before
the sun rises.

You won’t need any telescopes or fancy equipment to see the
meteors — just clear skies, your eyes, and a bit of patience.
Find a dark, remote spot away from the light pollution of nearby
towns and cities, make yourself comfortable, and set aside a good
chunk of time to enjoy the show.

“Give yourself at least an hour of viewing time for watching any
meteor shower,”
EarthSky.org advises
. “Meteors tend to come in spurts that
are interspersed by lulls. Also, it can take as long as 20
minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark.”

Perseid meteors are bright and fast, and they often leave
persistent trains, or the bright streaks that linger in the sky.
They are best seen from the Northern Hemisphere, and they travel
at the mind-numbing speed of 132,000 mph — 500 times as fast as
the fastest car in the world.

What causes a meteor shower?

When a comet swings too close to the sun, the sun’s light boils
its icy surface, releasing particles of ice and dust.

This debris coming off the comet forms a tail that points away
from the sun. As Earth crosses the orbit of this comet, it passes
through the tail:

The gravity of our planet attracts the dust and ice that the
comet leaves in its wake. When that debris is pulled into our
atmosphere, it rubs up against air molecules, causing it to burn
up and streak through the sky.

That process results in the glowing trails of light that we see
as meteors, or “shooting stars.”

The comet producing the meteors in the Perseids is
Swift-Tuttle
, a 16-mile-wide hunk of space rock that takes
133 years to orbit the sun. It’s the largest object in our solar
system that makes
repeated close approaches to Earth
.

The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but if you trace
their paths back, they all appear to come from the same point,
called the radiant. That’s because the meteors are all
approaching us at the same angle.

Meteor showers are all named after their radiant. The radiant for
the Perseids is the constellation Perseus, the Greek mythological
hero.

Ali Sundermier wrote a
previous version of this story.

The most spectacular meteor shower of the year peaks this week — here’s how to watch – Business Insider

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