Tuesday, August 12, 2014

2014 Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The 2014 Perseid Meteor Shower peaks tonight, August 12, 2014.  The summer's best meteor shower won't be as spectacular as previous years because a Full Moon just occurred on August 10, 2014 that will light up the night sky and make it more difficult to see the meteors.

The Perseids Meteor Shower produces more fireballs than any other meteor shower, according to Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.  A fireball is a very bright meteor, at least as bright as the planets Jupiter or Venus.  They can be seen on any given night as random meteoroids strike Earth's upper atmosphere. One fireball every few hours is not unusual.  Fireballs become more numerous, however, when Earth is passing through the debris stream of a comet.  That’s what will happen this August.

Cooke thinks the Perseids are rich in fireballs because of the size of the parent comet. Comet Swift-Tuttle has a huge nucleus--about 26 km in diameter," comments Cooke. "Most other comets are much smaller, with nuclei only a few kilometers across. As a result, Comet Swift-Tuttle produces a large number of meteoroids, many of which are large enough to produce fireballs."


According to NASA, the Perseids have been observed for about 2,000 years.  The source of the annual meteor shower is the debris trail left behind comet Swift-Tuttle.  Each year in August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet's debris. These bits of ice and dust burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.  
Most of the Perseid meteors that we observe now were ejected from Swift-Tuttle about 1,000 years ago.  

2014 Perseid Meteor Shower: Where To Watch

The Perseids meteor shower will be viewable almost all over the world but will be best seen in the northern hemisphere.   The major determining factor on where a good place is to watch the Perseids meteor shower will be determined by the viewer's local cloud cover and artificial light pollution.

2014 Perseid Meteor Shower: Where To Look

You can tell if a meteor belongs to a particular shower by tracing back its path to see if it originates near a specific point in the sky, called the radiant. The constellation in which the radiant is located gives the shower its name, and in this case, Perseids appear to come from a point in the constellation Perseus.

2014 Perseid Meteor Shower: When To Watch

The meteor shower will be viewable throughout the night.  Between the hours of 3 AM to 4 AM local time is the best time to watch this meteor shower.  Before midnight the meteor rate will start out low, then increase as the night wears on, peaking before sunrise when the constellation Perseus is high in the sky.

Video and image credit: NASA