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Sunday, May 29, 2011

2011 Perseid Meteor Showers, Best Viewing, Photo & Telescope Tips

Catch a Falling Star, The August Perseid Meteor Shower

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More meteor shower guides -> Geminids | Leonids | Orionids

The Perseid meteor shower is an annual meteor shower that is extremely regular in its timing and can potentially be visible for weeks in the late summer sky, depending on weather and location.

The Perseid meteor shower is named after the constellation Perseus, which is located in roughly the same point of the night sky where the Perseid meteor shower appears to originate from. This is a useful naming convention, but not very accurate!

The source of the Perseid meteor shower is actually debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle. Every year, the earth passes through the debris cloud left by the comet when the earth's atmosphere is bombarded by what is popularly known as "falling stars."

When and where to look for Perseids in 2011

In 2011, visibility (the weather also notwithstanding) will be somewhat limited by a full moon on August 13 which will likely wipe out fainter meteors from view.

Because of the way the earth hits this debris cloud, the Perseid meteor shower is much more visible in the Northern hemisphere.

People in Canada, for instance, can see the meteor shower by mid-July, but generally there isn't much activity at such an early date. Throughout Europe, the US and the rest of North America, meteor shower activity usually peaks sometime around August 12th, when it is not unusual to see at least 60 meteors per hour streaking across the Northeast sky.

The meteors are certainly bright, but they are actually only tiny objects, usually no more than a grain of sand. However, as they travel at speeds of up to 71 kilometers per second, these small particles put on quite a brilliant show.

The Perseid meteor showers were observed as far back as two thousand years ago, and in ancient Europe, the Perseid meteor shower was known as the "Tears of St. Lawrence."

How to view Perseids


2011 Meteor Showers

The next meteor shower is the Perseids on the night of August 13.

Name Date of Peak Moon
Quadrantids night of January 3 New
Lyrids night of April 21 Rises after midnight
Eta Aquarids night of May 5 Sets in early evening
Perseids night of August 13 Full
Draconids night of October 8 Sets around midnight
Orionids night of October 21 Rises after midnight
Leonids night of November 17 Rises around midnight
Geminids night of December 13 Just past full

NOTES These are approximate times for the Lower 48 states; actual shower times can vary. Bright moonlight makes it difficult to see all but the brightest meteors.

What are meteor showers?

An increase in the number of meteors at a particular time of year is called a meteor shower.

Comets shed the debris that becomes most meteor showers. As comets orbit the Sun, they shed an icy, dusty debris stream along the comet's orbit. If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower. Depending on where Earth and the stream meet, meteors appear to fall from a particular place in the sky, maybe within the neighborhood of a constellation.

Meteor showers are named by the constellation from which meteors appear to fall, a spot in the sky astronomers call the radiant. For instance, the radiant for the Leonid meteor shower is located in the constellation Leo. The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall from a point in the constellation Perseus.

What are shooting stars?


Orbit Diagram
Note: Make sure you have Java enabled on your browser to see the applet. This applet is provided as a 3D orbit visualization tool. The applet was implemented using 2-body methods, and hence should not be used for determining accurate long-term trajectories (over several years or decades) or planetary encounter circumstances. For accurate long-term ephemerides, please instead use our Horizons system.
Orbit Viewer

Additional Notes: the orbits shown in the applet are color coded. The planets are white lines, and the asteroid/comet is a blue line. The bright white line indicates the portion of the orbit that is above the ecliptic plane, and the darker portion is below the ecliptic plane. Likewise for the asteroid/comet orbit, the light blue indicates the portion above the ecliptic plane, and the dark blue the portion below the ecliptic plane.

Orbit Viewer applet originally written and kindly provided by Osamu Ajiki (AstroArts), and further modified by Ron Baalke (JPL).

Go there and See Orbital Paths...;sstr=2001

May 29

If you want the complete list going more than a year ahead then see the Space Calendar at NASA JPL.

Go there...

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