Each year in late summer it appears that the heavens open and releases a spectacular light show that, when observed, thrills the young and old. The Perseid meteor shower falls between July 14th and August 24th. The peak dates to witness the colorful streaks across the night sky, are August 9th through the 13th. The meteors continue to zoom through the sky for about ten more days after their peak in mid-August.
Located in the Northern Hemisphere, Galveston Islanders are in a choice location, complete with the right conditions, to witness the yearly phenomena. Everyone enjoys fireworks and the Perseid meteor shower is about as explosive a display as Mother Nature can provide. With a little patience and desire, along with some mighty powerful mosquito repellant, those wishing to enjoy the night sky activity can share a special event with friends and family.
In 1862 early astronomers Horace Tuttle and Lewis Swift named a comet that appeared to pass through our solar system for about ever 133 years. The last pass was in 1992. The comet known as 109P or the Swift-Tuttle comet appears at a “starting point” located in or near the constellation Perseus. Thus, the storm of comet and asteroid debris illuminating the night sky when striking the earth’s atmosphere has been labeled the Perseid meteor shower. There are many meteor showers throughout the year; however, NASA states the Perseid shower is by far the best and most spectacular to observe.
Tiny particles, most about the size of a grain of sand, speed through the darkened sky at or around 37 miles per second. These are “dust” from the Swift-Tuttle Comet and very small remnants or pieces of broken asteroids. As the pieces race through the sky, they leave a trail or line behind them — sort of a wake of the fire. Some explode yielding a huge burst of light and others just burn and flare as they screech across the Earth’s atmosphere.
A viewer on earth will see a downward path or streak of light as the particles follow the circular atmosphere surround the earth. If the earth were “flat” as some say, the streaks would appear to fall down straight on the surface of the earth, rather than follow the curvature of the enveloping layer of gases.
It is not rare, but rather uncommon for a meteor to pass through the oxygen-rich Earth’s atmosphere and not burn up. When and if a “falling” particle strikes the ground, it is called a meteorite. Meteorites are highly collectible and there have been some large ones on record that caused the great catastrophe and, possibly, the demise of the dinosaurs.
Historically, ancient civilizations and some current Earth-dwellers have developed meteorophobia, or an intense fear of meteors and meteorites. There is a complete list of the symptoms and various treatments for such a phobia.
Since the beginning of mankind’s journey on the planet, the sky, especially a darkened sky, has offered fantastic and sometimes scary events that have caused humans to fear and dread the “signs in the heavens.” This past year alone, the sky has offered viewers a recent rare super blood moon (lunar eclipse), a ring of fire (solar eclipse), a strawberry super moon, and numerous full moons, harvest moons, and blood moons. Now in mid-August, we get the beautiful Perseid meteor shower.
The Perseid meteor shower begins around 9 p.m. however, the peak hours of activity are mid-to-late early hours, and best after 2 in the morning. A viewing adventure can make for a late-night, however. The right location, an open sky (the beach offers a great “stage” for viewing), maybe the right friend or group of friends, some nice libations, and a blanket will make the wait worth it!
It is best to observe from an area that is not polluted with unnatural light sources and offers a panoramic view of the night sky. At peak, viewers should see 50 to 150+ meteors per hour. The colorful tails will follow the burning particles as they appear to dive toward the earth.
For those unable to venture out into the night, there are several sites online that offer live viewing of the Perseid meteor shower. Just log on to the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page and a Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 website (Virtual Telescope. eu).
Once again, nature is providing a free and unique experience for anyone interested. Be safe and enjoy the show!