Perseid meteors could see 'surge in activity' on Aug. 11-12

August 9, 2016, Royal Astronomical Society
A Perseid shooting star near the Pleiades over Woodingdean, Sussex, on the early morning of Aug. 13, 2013. Credit: Darren Baskill

Friday 12 August sees the annual maximum of the Perseid meteor shower. This year, as well as the normal peak on the night of 12/13 August, meteor scientists are predicting additional enhanced activity in the shower the night before, as the Earth passes through a dense clump of cometary debris.

Meteors (popularly known as 'shooting stars') are the result of small particles, some as small as a grain of sand, entering the Earth's atmosphere at high speed. The parent comet, Swift-Tuttle, which last passed near the Earth in 1992, leaves this debris in the Earth's path. On entering the atmosphere, these particles heat the air around them, causing the characteristic streak of light seen from the ground. The appear to originate from a single point, called a 'radiant', in the constellation of Perseus, hence the name of the shower.

Russian astronomer Mikhail Maslov and Finnish astronomer Esko Lyytinen predict that this year the Earth will pass through a stream of cometary material shifted towards us by Jupiter's gravitational field. According to their model, and work by French scientist Jeremie Vaubaillon, we could see a steep rise in activity from late evening on 11 August to 0500 BST on 12 August.

The Perseids are typically active from around 17 July to 24 August, although for most of that period only a few meteors an hour will be visible. During the peak, and if the predictions by Maslov, Lyytinen and Vaubaillon are right, as many as 100 meteors or more may be seen each hour. This year, the light from the waxing gibbous Moon will interfere to some extent for the first part of the night, so observers are advised to look out in the early morning hours after midnight when the Moon is very low in the sky or has set.

An image of a Perseid seen from above, made by astronaut Ron Garan from the International Space Station in August 2011. Credit: Ron Garan / ISS Expedition 28 Crew / NASA

Professor Mark Bailey, Director Emeritus of Armagh Observatory, said "The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year, and the predictions of a surge in activity this year make it particularly exciting this time. If you're lucky enough to have a clear sky early in the morning on 12 August, I'd definitely get up to take a look."

Dr David Asher, also at Armagh Observatory, continued, "If you're clouded out on the morning of the 12 August, you still have a chance to see the normal maximum the next night."

Unlike many celestial events, are straightforward to watch, and for most people the best equipment to use is simply the naked eye. Advice from experienced meteor observers is to wrap up well and set up a reclining chair to allow you to look up at the sky in comfort. If possible it also helps to be in a dark place away from artificial light, and to have an unobstructed view of the sky.

Although the number of visible meteors is hard to predict accurately, you can expect to see at least one every few minutes. They mostly appear as fleeting streaks of light lasting less than a second, but the brightest ones leave behind trails of vaporised gases and glowing air molecules that may take a few seconds to fade.

A Perseid seen in August 2010 above the four enclosures of the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile. Credit: ESO / S. Guisard

Explore further: Perseid meteors to light up summer skies

Related Stories

Perseid meteors to light up summer skies

August 7, 2015

The evening of Wednesday 12 August into the morning of Thursday 13 August sees the annual maximum of the Perseid meteor shower. This year, a new moon makes prospects for watching this natural firework display particularly ...

Annual Perseid meteor shower promises a fine display

July 29, 2015

The annual Perseid meteor shower is one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year. It peaks every year around the 12th/13th August, and under ideal conditions produces a maximum frequency of meteors, or zenith ...

Spectacular meteor shower set to light up UK skies

August 12, 2015

A spectacular display of hundreds of shooting stars are expected to be visible in the skies across parts of the UK late on Wednesday as the annual Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak.

Geminid meteors set to light up winter sky

December 13, 2012

(Phys.org)—On the evening of 13 and the morning of 14 December, skywatchers across the world will be looking up as the Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak, in potentially one of the best night sky events of the year.

2016 ETA Aquarid meteor shower peaks May 5-6

May 5, 2016

Itching to watch a meteor shower and don't mind getting up at an early hour? Good because this should be a great year for the annual Eta Aquarid (AY-tuh ah-QWAR-ids) shower which peaks on Thursday and Friday mornings May ...

Recommended for you

Sprawling galaxy cluster found hiding in plain sight

August 16, 2018

MIT scientists have uncovered a sprawling new galaxy cluster hiding in plain sight. The cluster, which sits a mere 2.4 billion light years from Earth, is made up of hundreds of individual galaxies and surrounds an extremely ...

Unusual doughnut-shaped jet observed in the galaxy NGC 6109

August 15, 2018

Astronomers from the University of Bristol, U.K., have uncovered an unusual doughnut-shaped jet in the radio galaxy NGC 6109. It is the first time that such a jet morphology has been observed in a low-power radio galaxy. ...

Iron and titanium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet

August 15, 2018

Exoplanets, planets in other solar systems, can orbit very close to their host stars. When the host star is much hotter than the sun, the exoplanet becomes as hot as a star. The hottest "ultra-hot" planet was discovered last ...

Unraveling the stellar content of young clusters

August 14, 2018

About twenty-five percent of young stars in our galaxy form in clustered environments, and stars in a cluster are often close enough to each other to affect the way they accrete gas and grow. Astronomers trying to understand ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

barakn
5 / 5 (3) Aug 09, 2016
This article is written for viewers in the British Isles. The "clump" or "surge" will occur before or at sunset for viewers on the west coast of the Americas and even on the East coast viewing will be marred during the moon-saturated evening hours.
BongThePuffin
Aug 16, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.