Perseids isn't the only meteor shower you can spot in the Indian skies
The Perseid meteor shower peaks between 11-12 August, but there are three more celestial shows to watch out for later in the year
Astronomy enthusiasts all over the world, and in India, have their eyes fixed on the night sky these days as the year’s best meteor shower, the Perseids, which is active from July 17 to August 24, peaks between 11-12 August.
Perseids is considered as one of the most prominent meteor showers to occur every year. Writing in a recent Nasa blog post, Emily Clay from the Marshall Space Flight Center says the meteor shower is popular due to its high rates of occurrence. “This year’s shower, however, has the unfortunate circumstance of the Moon phase—last quarter—impeding the view of the shower peak, reducing the visible meteors from over 60 per hour down to 15-20 per hour," Clay writes.
Meteors showers happen when cosmic dust and debris from other space enter the earth’s atmosphere. The sheer friction causes these small bodies to become incandescent, often leaving a streak of light behind.
“Meteor showers usually occur at specific intervals. The Perseid meteor shower is usually one of the best but unfortunately it occurs when it's monsoon time in India. We rarely get a chance to observe these meteors," says Pradeep Nayak, a senior member and astronomer at Khagol Mandal, the Mumbai-based voluntary astronomy organization founded in 1985.
As Nayak explains, gazing at the Perseids is popular in western countries because at this time of the year, most regions experience summer season and have relatively better sky conditions compared to India. But that doesn’t mean you can’t witness them here at all. If you are close to a region with clear skies at night, then you may turn out to be lucky.
“The Perseids are best seen between about 2 a.m. your local time and dawn. The Moon rises at around midnight, so its brightness will affect the peak viewing window," Clay explains in the Nasa blog post. If you can’t stay up this late, you can even go meteor-gazing tonight (that is, the night of 12 August) when the sky is at its darkest, any time after 9 pm.
Nayak says it’s important that you choose a location that is away from any sort of artificial light pollution. “Many of these meteors are faint," he adds. “Sit facing the eastern horizon. If you can detect the Perseid constellation, it's better to sit away from that side because it's rare to see them originate. Usually you see them scattered in a very large area. You have to lie down and look at the sky towards the horizon," he explains. “It may peak on the night of 11-12 August, or the night of 12-13 August, so both the nights are advisable to watch this meteor shower," he adds.
You can even head to the official Nasa Meteor Watch Facebook page, which hosted a live broadcast earlier today. But what if you still miss out on the Perseids? Don’t fret. This is the most popular meteor shower of the year that’s visible in the northern hemisphere, but there are three other annual meteor showers that are relatively more popular in India: Orionids, Leonids and Geminids. “Leonids are one of the most prominent and popular meteor showers in India. These occur in the month of November and peak usually on November 17-18," says Nayak.
In case you are wondering why these meteor showers sound like gladiators, there’s a reason to that. According to the American Meteor Society, a non-profit scientific organization founded in 1911, these showers are celestial events, in which a number of meteors are observed to radiate, or originate, from one point in the night sky. This point is of origin is called the ‘radiant’.
The Perseids originate from a ‘radiant’ that is located near the prominent constellation of Perseus. Similarly, the Orionids appear from a radiant that lies in the Orion constellation. Leonids get their name from the constellation Leo, and Geminids, from the Gemini constellation. Once the Perseids peak and their active period is over, you can look forward to the Orionids in October and the Geminids in December. The American Meteor Society describes the Geminids as usually “the strongest meteor shower of the year" and meteor enthusiasts are certain to circle December 13 and 14 on their calendars.
FIRST PUBLISHED12.08.2020 | 11:00 AM IST