Perseid Meteor Shower To Brighten Night Sky Aug. 11-12

August 7, 1997

Warm summer nights are perfect for gazing into the sky in search of the occasional shooting star.

Summer sky watchers are in for a special treat early next week when the Perseid meteor shower makes its annual appearance in the northeastern sky.

People in rural areas will have the best view of the celestial event in which shooting stars seem to rain from the night sky.

The meteor shower, named for the constellation Perseus from which the meteors, or shooting stars, appear to radiate, showcases up to 100 meteors per hour under ideal conditions, according to experts at the University of Colorado’s Fiske Planetarium. On other nights of the year, only five to 10 meteors per hour can be seen.

The event occurs every August as the Earth crosses the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which is in a 131-year orbit around the sun. The comet leaves a trail of fine-grained debris in its wake that ignites in a streak of light when it collides with the Earth’s atmosphere.

“They’re moving so fast that when they hit our atmosphere, they heat up and evaporate,’’ said Geoffrey Skelton, program supervisor with Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, who estimated the debris strikes the atmosphere at a speed of 40 miles per second.

An increase in meteor activity has already occurred as the Earth is nearing the comet’s path, but the shower will reach its peak the nights of Aug. 11 and 12.

Skelton said the best time to view the meteor shower will be after midnight, when the moon has set. Interested viewers should move away from city lights and avoid using binoculars and telescopes, which narrow the field of vision.

“Lie down on a reclining beach chair and let your eyes roam around,’’ Skelton said.

And if clouds prohibit a clear view, don’t fret. There will be other meteor showers this year, although in cooler weather they will not be as conducive to lounging outside. The Leonid meteor shower will offer more viewing opportunities Nov. 17, while the Geminid meteor shower will take place Dec. 14.

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