The annual Perseid Meteor Shower has been slowly building towards its crescendo tonight. Each year dedicated star gazers and novices alike are treated to a shower of lights flashing across the night sky. This year’s annual celestial fireworks display could feature as many as 60 meteors per hour.
The Perseid meteor shower is the result of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which passes relatively close to Earth every 133-135 years. As the Earth passes through the trail of space debris left in the wake of the comet, solid particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere at roughly 133,200 mph. These particles typically are vaporized by the tremendous heat generated as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. These fiery vapor trails are the “shooting stars” we see during this spectacular event.
You can begin to search the skies as early as 10 p.m., although the best views will come between 2 a.m. and the first light of dawn. As Earth rotates, the side facing the direction of its orbit around the Sun tends to scoop up more space debris. This part of the sky is directly overhead at dawn. Look to the northeast and meteors will appear to come from a point in the constellation Perseus, but you don’t need to know Perseus to watch the shower. While most will come from Perseus, meteors will appear in all parts of the sky. Set up a reclining lawn chair or throw a blanket down and lay on the ground. Standing or sitting upright to watch the show will leave you with a sore neck. Most of all be patient, at its peak meteors may come every one or two minutes, which in celestial terms is a shower, but for the impatient can seem like an eternity.
This event may be hit or miss in our area tonight. Berryville weather calls for a chance of showers and thunderstorms before midnight, then a slight chance of showers. If you can’t see it tonight don’t worry, while tonight marks the peak event for the meteor shower, the show will taper off gradually over the next few weeks.