Tag Archives: Perseids meteor shower

The Greatest Meteor Show of All Time

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By Bill Cooke

At NASA, we get very excited about many astronomical events — to name just a few, the return of Halley’s Comet back in 1985/86; the impact of the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in 1992; the Leonid meteor storms of 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002; and, of course, the upcoming total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 of this year.

Some of these events get blown a bit out of proportion. A classic example is that every time Mars comes to opposition (closest approach to Earth), the internet reverberates with the very false statement that Mars will appear as large as the Moon at that time. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as Mars, at its very closest to Earth, appears only 1/70th the apparent diameter of the Moon.

This year we have a new one — reports are circulating that this year’s Perseids will be the “brightest shower in recorded human history,” lighting up the night sky and even having some meteors visible during the day. We wish this were true… but no such thing is going to happen.

In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

For one thing, the Perseids never reach storm levels (thousands of meteors per hour). At best, they outburst from a normal rate between 80-100 meteors per hour to a few hundred per hour. The best Perseid performance of which we are aware occurred back in 1993, when the peak Perseid rate topped 300 meteors per hour. Last year also saw an outburst of just over 200 meteors per hour.

This year, we are expecting enhanced rates of about 150 per hour or so, but the increased number will be cancelled out by the bright Moon, the light of which will wash out the fainter Perseids. A meteor every couple of minutes is good, and certainly worth going outside to look, but it is hardly the “brightest shower in human history.” The Leonid meteor storms of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s were much more spectacular, and had rates 10 times greater than the best Perseid display.

So, if not this year’s Perseid shower, what was the greatest meteor show of all time? I think many meteor researchers would give that award to the 1833 Leonids, which had rates of tens of thousands, perhaps even 100,000, meteors per hour. During a good Perseid shower under ideal conditions, you can see about one meteor per minute. Now imagine yourself being back in 1833, on the night of Nov. 12. Looking outside, you would see something like 20 to 30 meteors PER SECOND. No wonder we read accounts like this one from South Carolina (Chambers, A Handbook of Descriptive and Practical Astronomy, Volume 1, 1889):

“Upwards of 100 lay prostrate on the ground…with their hands raised, imploring God to save the world and them. The scene was truly awful; for never did rain fall much thicker than the meteors fell towards the Earth; east, west, north and south, it was the same.”

Now, THAT’s a meteor shower. The 1833 storm had a profound effect on those that witnessed it; it also gave birth to modern meteor science. Those of us who study meteors dream of such a display happening sometime within our lifetimes.

But it won’t be caused by this year’s Perseids.

Cooke leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

 

Perseids Are Already Appearing in the Huntsville Sky

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This composite image shows the meteors detected by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station here in Huntsville, Alabama this morning.   The majority of the meteors are Perseids, but a handful belong to the Northern Delta Aquariid, Southern Delta Aquariid, Alpha Capricornid, and Southern Iota Aquariid meteor showers that are also active.

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This Perseid meteor was observed by the NASA Wide-field Meteor Camera Network in the skies over Huntsville, Alabama on the morning of August 12.

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Perseids Are Already Zipping Across the Sky!

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The Perseids are ramping up! Here’s a Perseid meteor captured by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network on August 4th. The shower will peak the morning of August 13th. With a near-new Moon, we may get a good show that morning!

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NASA Marshall to Host Ustream Event About Perseid Meteor Shower August 12; Experts to Answer Questions Online

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Perseid Meteor Shower Banner

Enjoy a summer evening of sky watching as the annual Perseid meteor shower peaks on the night of August 12 through the morning of August 13. Join meteor experts from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center for live Ustream commentary during the shower. Perseid meteor rates can get as high as 100 per hour, with many fireballs visible in the night sky

How to View the Perseid meteor shower

The best opportunity to see the Perseid meteor shower is during the dark, pre-dawn hours of August 13. The Perseidss streak across the sky from many directions. For optimal viewing, find an open skyline, where you can view the horizon without obstructions, such as buildings or trees.  Try to view the Perseids as far away from artificial lights as possible. The darker the sky, the better viewing experience you can have. Lie on the ground and look straight up. Remember, your eyes can take up to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness, so allow plenty of time for your eyes to adjust.

About the Perseids

The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. Every August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet’s debris. This debris field consists of bits of ice and dust — most over 1,000 years old — and burns up in Earth’s atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year. The Perseids can be seen all over the sky, but the best viewing opportunities will be across the northern hemisphere. Those with sharp eyes will see that the meteors radiate from the direction of the constellation Perseus.

NASA Ustream: Observe the Perseid Meteor Shower

On Aug. 12, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will host a live Ustream broadcast about the Perseid meteor shower. The event will highlight the science behind the Perseids, as well as NASA research related to meteors and comets. The broadcast will air 9 p.m. CDT Aug. 12, to 1 a.m. CDT Aug. 13 on the following Ustream channel: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-msfc

Special guests will include meteor experts Dr. Bill Cooke, Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw, all of NASA’s Micrometeoroid Office, located at Marshall. They will provide on-air commentary, as well as answer questions online, using Marshall social media accounts. Also scheduled to join the broadcast, via telephone, are experts from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in Houston; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; the American Meteor Society; the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California; and others.

There are two methods to join the online conversation during the broadcast. NASA followers can tweet questions to “@NASA_Marshall” using the hashtag “#askNASA.” Followers may also post questions on the Marshall Facebook account, replying to the 9 p.m. Aug. 12 Perseid “Q&A” post at: https://www.facebook.com/nasamarshallcenter

Viewing Tips to Enjoy the Perseid Show

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North America has a pretty good seat for this cosmic event.

1.  First, check the visibility map to make sure it’s visible from your location.

2.  Then check the weather – if you are expecting clouds, then Mother Nature has just rained on your parade and you won’t be able to see any meteors from outside your home. However, we will continue to stream clear skies here overnight, trying to find the best view of the night sky from our network of ground based telescopes.

3. If the weather gods are smiling down upon you, find a safe, dark location – away from city lights and lay out beneath the stars.  You don’t need to look in any particular direction, just straight up, but away from the moon.  Meteors can appear all over the sky.

4.  Add a lawn chair or sleeping bag and some snacks and you should be set!

NASA All Sky Camera Catches Perseids Meteors

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Tuesday night, the skies over Huntsville were filled with images of the Perseids meteor shower. This year, the Perseids shower will peak on August 12 and, weather permitting, it will be a sight you won’t want to miss. 

Join NASA astronomer Bill Cooke and his team of experts at Marshall Space Flight Center on August 12 for an ‘Up All Night’ web chat as they answer your questions about the Perseids. More information about the chat can be found at https://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/perseids_2011.html

 
 
All meteors seen by Huntsville NASA all sky camera last night



The 10 confirmed Perseids seen by the Huntsville camera last night



Confirmed Perseids seen by the Tullahoma NASA all sky camera last night


 
 Locations of all Perseid meteors recorded by our cameras so far this year
 
 
All Images credit: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environment