Perseid meteor shower of 2021, wishing upon a falling star

Perseid fireball meteor as captured by the author Aug. 12, 2013, from Sedona, Ariz.

SEDONA — It was that time of the year again.

And the Perseid meteor shower was predicted to peak before dawn Aug 12–13. That was according to the American Meteor Society. However, Perseid meteors can be seen any time between July 17–Aug 24.

This is perhaps the best and most beloved meteor shower of the year, for a couple of reasons. The first being that August nights are usually warm and comfortable, allowing many folks enough coziness to spend time under the stars.

Secondly, this is a very reliable meteor shower with up to 150 meteors per hour being reported, under optimal conditions. And finally, because no special equipment is needed, just a clear sky, a lawn chair and a hot drink is enough for anyone to witness debris from a comet burn up in our atmosphere.

When I say optimal conditions, I mean under a clear, dark sky, away from city lights, and with the moon out of the sky for the most part, anyway. On the morning of Aug. 12-13 we see our moon in a waxing crescent phase with an illumination of 19%! With the moon setting around 10:30 p.m., well before the predicted peak of the Perseid display. That’s good news for us who had wished upon a falling star that night.

These meteors are predictable because each year as the earth returns to the same position in its orbit around the sun, we encounter partials left behind by a great comet named Swift-Tuttle. Swift-Tuttle is a long period comet with an orbit of about 133 years. It is often referred to as the parent of the Perseids.

The predicted peak of activity for the Perseids was Aug. 13-14, however, the actual range of the Perseid meteor shower is from about July 17 to Aug. 24.

If a meteor is spotted during this period, it may be a true Perseid, but to be sure that meteor’s trail must be traced back to what is called the “radiant point.” The radiant point, in this case, is in the constellation Perseus, “the hero.” Hence the name Perseids.

If the meteor trail cannot be traced back to this point, it is considered a rogue. Every meteor shower has its own radiant point, and that’s how they get their names, by their association to a particular constellation.

A great source of information on radiant points and predicted dates and times of meteor shower peaks can be found on the website of the American Meteor Society. An amateur can easily join the society and even report meteoric events like fireballs, which are very bright and dramatic meteors. And report how many sightings you witnessed on a particular night.

If you are a photographer, you can also build a portfolio of your meteor captures on that site. I have been a member for many years and have many videos and photographs published there.

Some terminology I have found useful about meteors: A particle in space that has not yet contacted our atmosphere is a meteoroid. What we see as a falling star is a meteor. A meteor that survives its journey through our atmosphere to land on the earth is a meteorite.

Every day the earth is bombarded by thousands of meteors, some bright enough to be seen in daylight hours.

But it is during these predicted peak days or hours we have our best chance to see a falling star!

Former Arcadian Victor C. Rogus (F.R.A.S.) is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, London, living in Sedona, Arizona.

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