It’s the month of a celestial spectacle for stargazers as the sky is going to be lit up by the Perseid meteor shower, which is estimated to peak around 13 August this year, according to skywatching site In The Sky. The meteor shower, one of the biggest of the year, is active every year from mid-July to late August.
The Perseid meteor shower is caused by Earth moving through debris composed of ice, rock, and dust, of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits our Sun every 133 years. The comet was last visible in 1992 and won’t pass Earth again until 2125, according to US space agency Nasa. The Swift-Tuttle was discovered by astronomers Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle in 1862.
A meteor shower is comet debris that heats up when it enters the atmosphere and burns in a bright burst of light, making a radiant path across the sky. A typical Perseid meteoroid moves at 133,200 mph when it hits Earth's atmosphere. Notably, most Perseids are around the size of a sand grain. Almost none of them touch the ground, but if one does, then it's called a meteorite, according to Space.com. They can reach temperatures of more than 1,650 Celsius.
According to Nasa, the Perseids appear to come from the direction of the Northern Hemisphere constellation Perseus, hence their name. Under optimal viewing conditions and on a clear night, it might be possible to see between 60 to 100 meteors per hour during the peak. The Perseids are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere before dawn. “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," Emily Clay from the Marshall Space Flight Center said in a Nasa blog post.
This year, the moon is taking a step back to make way for the Perseids, as it will only be 10% illuminated, according to Space.com. The shower is mostly visible when it’s about 97 kilometres from the ground.
Perseids are also known for their fireballs, which are larger explosions of light and colour. They can be seen for a longer time than an average meteor streak as they originate from larger particles of cometary material, according to Nasa.
People in India can also witness this meteor shower. But to best enjoy the show, it is advised that you find a place away from the city lights where the sky is dark and open. The meteor shower can be observed with the naked eye.