Year’s Best Meteor Shower

Photo by Haitong Yu / Getty Images; Perseid Meteor Shower seen in 2015 on Tibetan Plateau in western China

By Rich Burdge
Special to the Sun

If you see just one astronomical event this summer, it has got to be the Perseid Meteor Shower. On the night of Sunday, August 12, and early Monday morning, the planet Earth will plow through debris from a comet.

This is how it works: when a comet swings around the sun, the star’s heat boils off ice and dusty debris. When the debris trail orbit crosses Earth’s orbit, we get a meteor shower.

On Sunday night, that is just what is going to happen. The night sky will come alive with shooting stars. This meteor shower is the left over stuff from comet Swift-Tuttle, a visitor to our solar system every 133 years.

The comet is named after the observers who discovered it. That’s how it works. Find a comet, and it will be given your name – pretty cool.
Very small pieces of rock, none larger than a pea weighing less than one gram and entering the atmosphere at a blazing velocity of 100,000 mph, will produce a lot of friction, and the light we see is a meteor. Meteors become visible at a height of 55 miles and burn up before they reach an altitude of 50 miles.

The typical hourly rate for meteors on a non-show night is maybe 6 meteors per hour. How would you like to count 80 to 90 meteors per hour? A terrific rate. All you need to view the Perseid Meteor Shower is to go outside and look to the northeast starting at about 9 p.m. till dawn. The experts say it should be spectacular.

The Kern River Valley Astronomy Club will host its Saturday night Star Party at dusk on August 11 at the Fairview Observing site located 12 miles north of Kernville. A sign and orange cones will mark the entrance. There will be lots of meteor action that night, also. See you there. Clear skies.

For more information, call Rich Burdge at (760) 376-6290.