NASA capture incredible ‘fireball’ during Perseid meteor shower
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The Perseids may have first arrived in mid-July but the meteor shower will start in earnest this week. Sparked by the Earth crossing the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are known for their bountiful peak and beautiful shooting stars. And according to astronomer Edward Bloomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London, the UK’s is perfectly positioned to see this display of nature’s firework.
The Perseid shower arrives each year in about mid-July, scattering individual shooting stars here and there until the last week or so of August.
But the shower is most intense on the night of its so-called peak when the hourly rate of shooting stars goes through the roof.
The shower’s peak falls on the night of Thursday, August 12, this year although Dr Bloomer said you should be able to see plenty of meteors between August 10 and 16.
The meteors are tiny bits and pieces of Comet Swift-Tuttle that have broken off during its journey around the Sun and were left behind in its orbit.
Comet Swift-Tuttle is a periodic comet that completes a lap around the solar system every 133 years.
Perseid meteor shower: The annual meteor shower reaches its peak on August 12 (Image: GETTY)
Perseid meteor shower: Meteor hunting is best done in pitch-black darkness (Image: GETTY)
Dr Bloomer told Express.co.uk: “Essentially what happens is, the Earth moves into the tail of the comet.
“And because it’s intersecting at a particular time of the year, that means the particles as they’re burning up in the atmosphere, they appear to radiate from a particular point in the sky.”
Meteor showers are traditionally named after their nearest constellation, which in the case of the Perseids, happens to be the constellation Perseus.
Dr Bloomer added: “Basically, it’s us intersecting with this dusty tail and those particles of dust burn up in the atmosphere.”
The small bits and pieces of the icy comet race through the atmosphere at breakneck speeds, burning up before they reach the ground.
But it’s not exactly the force of friction that causes them to glow on their way down, but rather something known as ram pressure.
According to Dr Bloomer, the effect causes the air in front and around the meteors to heat up, in turn, heating up the meteors themselves.
Perseid meteor shower: Incredible time-lapse shows shower peak
The intense temperatures eventually cause the meteors to disintegrate.
On their way down, the meteors create bright streaks across the sky that can, at times, appear in a multitude of colours.
The astronomer said: “That’s what you’re seeing, that’s what a shooting star is: the glow of these impacting dust particles.
“Occasionally you’ll get something a bit bigger, so if you’ve got something the size of a fist – and that’s fairly rare – that can live for a good few seconds.
“You might even see a bit of the break up of the material.”
The average shooting only lasts for about a blink of an eye before disappearing.
Dr Bloomer likened the sight of seeing a meteor to seeing a “star that has just come into existence” only to see it momentarily disappear.
Meteor showers and when to see them in 2021 (Image: EXPRESS)
Perseid meteor shower: The meteors will only last for a split a second (Image: GETTY)
It is good news then the shower is expected to produce about 100 if not more shooting stars an hour during the peak.
The shower will be best seen after 10 or 11pm local time, when the Sun has already set below the horizon.
You will then want to find a wide-open area with an unobstructed view of the northeast horizon.
The constellation Perseus will rise fairly high when viewed from the Northern Hemisphere.
You just want to make sure you stay away from sources of light pollution like buildings, cars and streetlamps.
Grab a deck chair and dress appropriately for the weather.
If the skies are clear and temperatures are pleasant, you might want to stay up until 2.30am to see the shower – the Perseids will be visible until sunrise.
The meteors may appear once every minute or in rapid bursts with longer intervals.
The key, according to Dr Bloomer, is to be patient.
He said: “There’s no real shortcut to it, you have to get out somewhere dark, look in the right part of the sky and sort of relax and give yourself a bit of time.
“You might see a small flurry of them or you might wait for several minutes and nothing seems to happen at all.
“You might blink at the wrong time and miss one! So there is a lot of patience involved.”