Planets Align for the Perseid Meteor Shower

A Perseid meteor photographed in Aug. 2009 by Pete Lawrence of Selsey, UKThe show begins at sundown, August 12, when Venus, Saturn, Mars and the crescent Moon pop out of the western twilight in tight conjunction. All four heavenly objects will fit within a circle about 10 degrees in diameter, beaming together through the dusky colors of sunset. No telescope is required to enjoy this naked-eye event.

The planets will hang together in the western sky until 10 pm or so. When they leave, following the sun below the horizon, you should stay, because that is when the Perseid meteor shower begins. From 10 pm until dawn, meteors will flit across the starry sky in a display that’s even more exciting than a planetary get-together.

The Perseid meteor shower is caused by debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. Every 133 years the huge comet swings through the inner solar system and leaves behind a trail of dust and gravel. When Earth passes through the debris, specks of comet-stuff hit the atmosphere at 140,000 mph and disintegrate in flashes of light. These meteors are called Perseids because they fly out of the constellation Perseus.

For best results, get away from city lights. The darkness of the countryside multiplies the visible meteor rate 3- to 10-fold. A good dark sky will even improve the planetary alignment, allowing faint Mars and Saturn to make their full contribution to the display. Many families plan camping trips to coincide with the Perseids. The Milky Way arching over a mountain campground provides the perfect backdrop for a meteor shower.

Link to the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus home page.

10 thoughts on “Planets Align for the Perseid Meteor Shower”

  1. Hi there- I wrote a couple of days ago with two questions.
    How do I find the answers on the sight?
    ?1. What is the difference between a meteor and a comet?
    ?2. What was the large round explosion we saw in the Northern
    sky on Thursday night between 11PM and midnight.?
    Location: Kittery Point, Me.

    thanks for your help- C. T. Graham

  2. Q: Hello, Where are the answers to the commets posted?

    A: Answers to questions asked on the NES Teachers Corner are posted back to the NES Teachers Corner. Responses are provided if the question is directly related to the subject of the post, or to an educational issue related to the content in the post.

    Other NASA blog sites handle comments differently.

  3. Q: What is the difference between a meteor and a comet?

    A: A meteor is bright trail or streak of light that appears in the night sky. It occurs when a very small meteoroid (space rock or dust) enters the earth’s atmosphere. Such objects have speeds approaching 70 kilometres per second. Meteors are also incorrectly called shooting stars. The streak of light from a meteor is the result of the light given off when the meteor is heated by friction between the meteor and Earth’s atmosphere. Most meteors are visible for only a few seconds before “burning up” in the atmosphere. By the way, if the rock is not destroyed by friction and lands on the ground, it’s called a meteorite.

    A comet has a small, irregular nucleus, often described as a “dirty snowball,” made of dust and other materials frozen in water. When a comet gets close to the Sun, the heat from the Sun vaporizes the surface of the comet, releasing gases and dust particles, which form a cloud (coma) around the nucleus. Material in the coma is often pushed away from the Sun because of the sun’s radiation and the solar wind. This forms a visible tail, which always points away from the sun. If a comet’s tail is visible from Earth, it will remain visible night after night as the comet orbits the Sun and continues on it’s orbit away from the Sun. Eventually, as the comet gets farther away from the Sun, the Sun has less effect on the comet and the tail gets smaller and smaller until it finally disappears completely.

    Meteor showers, such as the Perseid Meteor Shower, occur when Earth passes through the dust trail left by a comet.

  4. Q: Will it be visible in puerto rico?

    A: This meteor shower is primarily a northern hemisphere phenomenon. To see it, look for the constellation Perseus. Check with a local observatory or a local astronomy club’s website for additional viewing information for your area.

  5. last night i was out fishing in the california delta, near sacramento and a friend and i saw about 20+ shooting stars or meteors in about an hour….does the perseid event possibly continue this long? or was it something else? if so, what??

  6. Q: last night [August 19] i was out fishing in the california delta, near sacramento and a friend and i saw about 20+ shooting stars or meteors in about an hour….does the perseid event possibly continue this long?

    A: The last night meteors are likely to be seen from this meteor shower is August 22, when an observer might see a Perseid meteor every hour or so. However, there are other, weaker meteor showers going on around the same time as the Perseids. Perhaps that’s what you saw.

Comments are closed.