Perseid Meteor Shower Returns!

There is a common misconception about meteorologists going around that we study meteors.  That is false as that is the job of astronomers.  The term meteorology is derived from the Greeks meaning high in the sky.  Lucky for you all earth science is a part of the curriculum at Umass Lowell so I do know a little bit about meteors.  One of the annual meteor showers returns Thursday night.  The Perseids promise to be better than ever this year so get that coffee ready!  
Perseid meteor shower (image
What is the Perseid Meteor shower?
The perseids are left overs from the Swift-Tuttle Comet which passes by Earth every 133 years.   It last passed in 1992 and won't approach again until 2126.  A comet is an icy small solar mass.  Well when it passes "near" the sun it will melt and leave a trail of debris.  Each year when Earth passes through the debris field we are treated to a meteor shower. Thanks to the massive gravity field of Jupiter more debris will be in the path of Earth than normal.  As a result we will have a great show!

Why is it called Perseid?
The meteors seem to come from the constellation Perseus.
Perseus constellation (image Wikipedia)
 When can I view the show?
The show peaks Thursday night after midnight but you should be able to see showers Wednesday night, Friday night and Saturday night as long as skies are clear.  The moon is in its "new" phase so the showers will really stand out with no light interference from our closest neighbor.   One would want to head out into the country for the best viewing but if you are in a small town like Northbridge the light pollution won't screw up the viewing all that much.  If you are in Boston/Worcester etc you might have a harder time viewing the show.  

Why are we going to see more meteors than normal this year?  Should we be concerned?
NO!  Meteors burn up as they enter the earth's atmosphere.  I'll leave it to Bill Cooke of NASA to describe the phenomenon as told to
"Every time Swift-Tuttle goes around the sun, it deposits a trail of particles which we call a meteor stream. Over time, the gravitational influence of Jupiter and other giant planets (but mainly Jupiter) changes the particle orbits, and as a result, their close approach distances to Earth will vary.
If the change for a given stream is towards Earth’s orbit, we may see greater than normal activity when our planet passes the trail’s nodal crossing.
This year Jupiter’s influence has moved the 1079, 1479, and 1862 [meteor] streams closer to Earth, so all forecasters are projecting a Perseid outburst with double double normal rates on the night of August 11-12 [evening of August 11, morning of August 12]. "
Now the show is gradual and while the peak is spectacular it doesn't last long and it does occur after midnight.  But if you can try and get up early or stay up late tomorrow night.  Friday night will see meteors as well just not as many.

Will I be able to see the shower?
The sky should be clear tomorrow night save for a few clouds.
18z NAM hires Sim IR satellite Friday 5 AM (image College of Dupage WxCenter)
It will be plenty warm enough in the Northeast.  Enjoy the show if you can and feel free to leave me any questions you may have about the shower.  

Thanks to and wikipedia for information on the shower.

-Zack Green


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