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What Are Perseid Showers?
published during a waxing gibbous moon.
08/11/2016

Perseid Showers

 

Credit: NASA/JPL

If you stay up tonight, you might be able to check a few items off from your wish list. Every year Earth gets free admission to see a shooting star show, the Perseids, which are bright, speedy remnants from an ancient comet.

The shower typically has about 50 to 60 meteors per hour. But this year’s show promises to be a bonanza: The Perseids are predicted to have an outburst, meaning there will be even more meteors than usual. The last burst was back in 2009.

The Perseid meteor shower will peak on the night of August 11. If all of the rocks that hurtle through the sky seem confusing, meteors are that flash of light we see when something burns up in our atmosphere after it’s broken off from a comet or asteroid. They’re usually small, ranging in size from dust to a boulder.

Perseid Showers

Credit: NASA

The wish magnets are visible when Earth crosses its stream with a comet’s, which also orbits the sun. When comets, or dirty snowballs, get a little heated, small parts of them are dislodged and  leave a trail behind them like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs.

The Perseids’ parent comet is Swift-Tuttle, which last flew by earth in the early 1990s — an oldie, but a goodie.

Astronomers recommend reclining on a chair or blanket and looking up, no telescope required. The name originates from Perseus, a constellation, but you don’t need to orient yourself toward it because the meteors can appear anywhere in our sky. Try to keep a distance from artificial light, too.

If cloud cover decides to ruin your fun, you can tune into NASA’s coverage starting at 10 p.m. EDT.

Missed this event? Not a worry! There are actually major meteor showers all year long, from the Quadrantids in January to the Geminids at the end of the year, all with different comets of origin. You can see a schedule of the remaining shows this year here.