Summer is for meteor showers and stargazing

The night sky is our window to the infinite. Above us are an untold number of stars and planets and other geologic wonders, and likely, life. It’s a hopeful place to project our thoughts and to tease our imaginations.

When I look up into space, I contemplate all the wondrous things we’re still learning about it: how more and more planets beyond our solar system are discovered every year, how black holes crashing into one another literally ripple space and time, and how somewhere, the element gold is being forged in the furnace of colliding neutron stars. And then there are the mysteries. Like how we have no idea what 95 percent of the universe is made of.

Summer may be the best time of year to lay back, look up, and soak in the wonder of the cosmos.

One of  the best skywatching this summer is the Perseid meteor shower (August 12 to 13). What is it? Every year in August, the Swift-Tuttle comet puts on a brilliant show. When the Earth plows into its wake, tiny bits of debris left behind from the comet slam into our atmosphere at 132,000 miles per hour, reach temperatures of 3,000 to 10,000 Farenhiet, and streak across the sky in what we call the Perseid meteor shower.

In a normal year, the Perseids are the most spectacular meteor shower we can see. Spectators can normally see around 60 to 100 meteors an hour. It’s arguably the best meteor shower of the year.

Where to look? Now, we’re in luck. This year the Perseids will peak right after a new moon, ensuring dark skies. The best time to look will be on the night of August 12th or the early morning hours of August 13.

Perseids appear to radiate outward from the constellation Perseus — you know, the mythical Greek hero who chopped off the head of the wretched gorgon Medusa and lived to tell the tale. The meteors will rain like sparks from the hero’s righteous blade. The moon will set around 10 pm, so the sky should be nice and dark for viewing.

You don’t need to look straight at Perseids to take in the shower as the meteorites trace their scorching path across the sky. Just lie back, gaze upward, and streaks of bright light should alight your eyes. As the night grows darker until dawn, the show only gets better, NASA explains.


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