Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend

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Meteors cross the starry sky over Hunting Island Beach in this photo by Delk Haigler

Ready to catch a few shooting stars? Take a good look up in the night sky over Beaufort this weekend and you just might be in for a treat with the arrival of the annual Perseid meteor shower peak.

Beaufort, as well as the majority of the Lowcountry are lucky enough to have less ground light to light up the sky and make it more difficult to see anything going on in the milky way above. With less light from the ground, we are lucky to be able to see a shooting star nearly every clear night if we look long enough.

If the skies are clear over Beaufort and the sea islands on Saturday and Sunday nights, we’re in for a treat.

For the Northern Hemisphere, August is usually regarded as “meteor month,” with one of the best displays of the year reaching its peak near midmonth. That display is, of course, the annual Perseid meteor shower, which is beloved by meteor enthusiasts and summer campers alike. But skywatchers beware: You will face a major obstacle in your attempt to observe this year’s Perseid performance — namely, the moon.

As (bad) luck would have it, this year, the moon turned full on August 7, and it will be at a rather bright waning gibbous phase several nights later, hampering observation of the peak of the Perseids, predicted to occur on the night of August 11-12.  August 12-13 will also have high rates, as the absolute peak is during the day Aug. 12th.

 

Moonrise on Saturday is at around 10:50 p.m. The moon will be hovering below and to the left of the Great Square of Pegasus these nights and not all that far from the constellation Perseus, from where the meteors will appear to emanate (hence the name “Perseid”). Perseus does not begin to climb high up into the northeast sky until around midnight; by dawn, it’s nearly overhead.

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The best time to view the Perseids, or most other meteor showers is when the sky is the darkest. Most astronomers suggest that depending on the Moon’s phase, the best time to view meteor showers is right before dawn

The Virtual Telescope Project based in Italy will host a live webcast Saturday at 4:50 p.m. EDT (2050 GMT). You can watch that Perseids webcast live here at start time.

A meteor shoots through the sky over Hunting Island State Park. Photo by Delk Haigler

A meteor shoots through the sky over Hunting Island State Park. Photo by Delk Haigler

The Perseids are already around, having been active, although weak and scattered, since around July 17. But a noticeable upswing in Perseid activity has taken place during the last few nights, leading up to the meteors’ impending peak. They are typically fast and bright, and they occasionally leave persistent trains. Every once in a while, a Perseid fireball will blaze forth, bright enough to be quite spectacular and more than capable of attracting attention even in bright moonlight.

We know today that these meteors are the leftover debris shed by Comet Swift-Tuttle along its orbit. Discovered back in 1862, this comet takes approximately 130 years to circle the sun. And in much the same way that the Tempel-Tuttle comet leaves a trail of debris along its orbit to produce the spectacular Leonid meteors of November, Swift-Tuttle produces a debris trail along its orbit, causing the Perseids. 

Indeed, every year during mid-August, when the Earth passes close to the orbit of Swift-Tuttle, the material left behind by the comet from its previous visits rams into Earth’s atmosphere at approximately 37 miles per second (60 km/s) to create bright streaks of light in the midsummer night skies.

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Read more about the Perseid meteor shower at Space.com

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