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The 2012 Perseid Meteor Shower

The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming up, and is slated to be at its peak on August 11-12th. In a clear, dark sky, there may be as many as 60 bright meteors per hour, some with smoke trails that last several seconds after the meteor has vanished. The Perseids will be visible for most of August. To minimize the effect of light pollution, expert astronomers say to avoid artificial lights, like those found in major cities. If you have a clear view, the best direction to look is east and about half way up the sky from the horizon. You will not need binoculars or a telescope because the meteors move way too fast to be seen through magnification. The Earth will be moving head on into the meteor stream at dawn, so there is a great chance of seeing a “fireball” in the early hours of the day.

perseid map 2012 meteor shower

The red dot is the Perseid radiant. Although Perseid meteors can appear in any part of the sky, all of their tails will point back to the radiant.

Most meteor showers are said to happen when the Earth crosses the orbit of a comet. The Perseids come from the Comet Swift Tuttle. The meteors are caused by the particles released from the comet’s nucleus and left behind in space. As the Earth plows through the stream of debris, each particle slams into our atmosphere at a speed of more than 50 kilometers per second. The resulting heat burns up these particles almost instantly. The heat also momentarily creates a streak of glowing air that we see as a meteor, or a “shooting star.”

A computer simulation has also been created that shows the meteors streaking path from the Perseid shower.

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