Perseid Meteor Shower 2013

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Courtesy Sky & Telescope

The Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend and if you don’t take a few minutes to see this spectacular astronomical event, especially if you have kids, then you are missing out on a great opportunity.  Who doesn’t love seeing a shooting star streak across the night sky?  If you are like most people, this is a rare occurrence but Sunday night is a completely different story because we know exactly when and where they will occur.  While the shower has been going on for a few weeks now on Sunday night and especially early Monday morning is the best time to see them.  At its peak you can expect to see more than one per minute and because it will be a dark moonless night the viewing will be even better.  So, take the chance to share this cool experience with your family  and while you are at it here are a few cool facts about amazing natural event.

1.  The same object is called three different things depending on where it is.  A meteoroid is a particle smaller than a comet or asteroid that is flying through space.  It becomes a meteoroid when it hits the Earths atmosphere and a meteorite when it hits the Earth itself.

2.  Perseid Meteoroids hit Earth’s atmosphere at 132,000 miles per hour relative to the earth.  To put this into perspective, if Apollo 11 had been traveling this fast to the moon it would have taken Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins 2 seconds to get there instead of 3 days.

3.  Most of the meteors that you see streaking across the sky are the size of a grain of sand with a few as big as a peas or marbles.  They glow brightly, kind of like a light bulb filament, when they heat up from entering earth’s atmosphere.

4.  No one has ever found a meteorite (a meteor that has hit the Earth) from the Perseid meteor shower.  Scientists think this is because they are so small and that most, if not all of them, burn up before they hit the ground.

5.  The Perseid Meteor shower is caused each year in July and August when Earth passes through the debris left over from many passes of the Swift-Tuttle comet on it’s 130 year orbit around the sun.

6.  The Swift-Tuttle comet is the largest object that makes repeated passes near Earth.  It has a diameter of about 6 miles across which scientists think is the same size as the comet that hit the earth and destroyed the dinosaurs.

7.  Meteors can be heated to temperatures over 3000 degrees Fahrenheit and are still 60 miles high when we first see them.  Some Larger meteors make a big flash called a fireball as they shatter.  Sometimes this explosion can be heard from the ground.

8.  As Earth spins, the side facing the direction of its orbit around the Sun scoops up debris.  This part of the sky is directly overhead at dawn which is why the best viewing of all shooting stars is best in the hours before dawn.

9.  The Swift-Tuttle comet will return to the inner solar system in 2126, over 100 years from now.  It will leave more debris in its path to regenerate the Perseid meteor shower for future generations.

10.  This shower is called the Perseids meteor shower because the shooting stars seem to emanate from the constellation Persius.

As a parent I love opportunities like this.  Summer nights, before school starts up again, when staying up late isn’t going to hurt a thing.  In fact, that just helps to make it more memorable and this unique experience is rife with opportunities to teach and excite kids about science and nature.  I hope you will stay out Sunday night and see it for yourself.  Remember though, Sunday night is just the peak,  if you can’t do it then any night this weekend will is almost as good.  Enjoy.



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