Good news, skywatchers: NASA has announced the upcoming arrival of a spectacularly large meteor shower. This year’s annual Perseid meteor shower is expected to be one of the largest and most active in history, capable of lighting up the sky with a supersize display of exploding space debris.
According to Bill Cooke at NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office, this year’s meteor shower should provide Earthlings with an especially dazzling light show, as three separate debris streams are poised to intercept Earth:
Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of Aug. 11-12. Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.
The Perseid meteor shower consists of small fragments of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which travels around the Sun once every 133 years. As it flies through the solar system, it leaves fragments of debris in its wake.
As the Earth orbits the Sun, our big blue-and-green spaceship comes into regular contact with the debris field left by the comet. Due to Jupiter’s gravitational pull, some groupings of debris are more densely packed than others; this year’s shower is expected to be one of this particularly dense debris fields.
While watching the light show of the meteor shower is interesting enough on its own, NASA’s Bill Cooke says the shower is remarkable due to the incredible distances the comet fragments travel before exploding in our skies for our enjoyment:
Here’s something to think about. The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago. And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.
In North America, the shower will be visible between midnight and sunrise on the morning of August 12. In the Southern Hemisphere, the best viewing times will be between August 1 and the full moon on August 10.