Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Meteor Shower August 2010: How You Can Get the Best View

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Meteor Shower August 2010: How You Can Get the Best View

Article excerpt

Meteor shower August 2010 peak comes early Friday. Emanating from the constellation Perseid, the meteor shower could yield sightings in some locations of up to 75 meteors an hour.

The annual Perseid meteor shower, one of the finest shows in August's night sky, is set to dazzle the bleary-eyed in the wee hours of Friday.

If you live under very dark skies or can travel beyond the sky glow of urban America, you can expect to see up to 75 meteors an hour, astronomers suggest. If you're hardy enough to be on a mountaintop, the number could reach 108 meteors an hour.

The best viewing locations will be in the Northern Hemisphere, with Southern Hemisphere sky-watchers limited to perhaps 30 or 40 events an hour at the shower's peak.

IN PICTURES: Meteor showers

Of more than 364 meteor showers on the roster kept by the International Astronomical Union, the Perseids turn in the most reliably decent show of the bunch. (But not all 364 on the roster have been confirmed as independent meteor displays.)

This year's Perseid show is poised to be above average. So give it up for 109P/Swift-Tuttle, the comet whose debris is responsible for the show. It swings around the sun once every 135 years, spewing dust and gas as it nears the sun and heats up. The comet's last pass was in 1992.

In mid-July, Earth began moving into Swift-Tuttle's stream of dust. The debris "is a very old stream that has been building for a long time and is a very dense concentration of dust," says Peter Jenniskens, a meteor researcher at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

Indeed, "if you look back at records from the Middle Ages, you can see that people in the Middle Ages were seeing the Perseid meteor shower," he says.

Swift-Tuttle originated in the Oort cloud, a vast spherical cloud of frozen leftovers from the solar system's formation some 4.6 billion years ago. Roughly 160,000 years ago, as Swift-Tuttle was passing through to the inner solar system, Jupiter captured it, sort of.

That event shrank the comet's orbit around the sun. But Jupiter's gravity was never able to draw Swift-Tuttle into its fold of truly short-period comets, which reappear on average every 20 years or less. …

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