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Return of the Perseid Meteors

We are now in the midst of the annual Perseid meteor shower. The shower continues through August till 24th, with a broad peak of activity expected after midnight on the night of 12/13th.

This shower is one of the most reliable meteor displays of the year. During peak activity, up to 100 observable meteors per hour may enter the Earth's atmosphere. However, a single observer may only see a fraction of this number, depending on what fraction of the sky is in view. The meteors are generally fast and bright, many leaving persistent trains. Assuming a cloudless sky, conditions are good this year with a new Moon around the time of the peak.

During the 1990s, when the Perseids' parent comet passed close to the Earth, there was much activity during the shower. Since then the number of meteors arriving has decreased by a factor of about four, as the parent periodic comet, 109/P Swift-Tuttle, now leaves the inner solar system before returning in about the year 2122. Up to three peaks have been observed for this shower, two of which occurred after the broad peak. If these should occur again this year, then north America and part of south America will be the favoured locations to see these extra peaks.

Comets are usually the sources of meteors, as they shed dust trails when closest to the Sun. In the case of the Perseids, the Earth encounters this dust at high speed - over 200,000 kilometres per hour - causing the particles to vaporise at a height of almost 100 kilometres.

The Perseids emanate from the constellation Perseus which at about 3 or 4 am lies moderately high in the east on 13th. For general meteor detections, check web page. To observe the Perseids yourself, choose, if possible, a dark site with a clear, cloudless vista towards the east. Allow your eyes time to become accustomed to the dark, and look at an altitude of about 45o keeping the radiant to the edge of your field of view. To avoid fatigue, recline in a comfortable chair under a sleeping bag, if cold.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; jmfat signarm.ac.uk.

See also:
Perseids Party and BBQ
Automatic Meteor Detection System
Bright Taurid Meteor
Two Leonid Meteors
A Bright Fireball


Last Revised: 2007 August 2nd
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