Take a Midnight Shower
It’s that time of year again! Every August our Earth hurtles through the debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle. Fortunately for us, the Earth has a thick atmosphere (about 100kms of it) that not only shields us from space debris, but can do so in a spectacular fashion called a “meteor shower” by vaporising the space rocks in brilliant streaks of light.
This year the show is predicted to peak on the night of Wednesday, 12th August. The Perseid Meteor Shower, as it’s known, is named for the Perseus constellation, since the shower appears to originate from the constellation. In fact, the shower is at least a trillion (1 followed by 12 zeros) times closer to use than the stars of Perseus!
Perseus the constellation and Perseus the legendary Medusa killer! Isn’t the resemblance uncanny? Images from the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and Wikipedia (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License) respectively.
While us Southern Hemispherians don’t normally see much of Perseus in Winter, the shower will be visible all over the world.
Around 11pm to 1am would be a good time to cast your eyes skyward - there’s no need for binoculars or telescopes for this show. For the best chance of spotting some Swift-Tuttle debris, generally face East and look somewhere overhead. After spiralling through space all this time, the debris could wind up striking the Earth’s atmosphere just about anywhere - if we’re especially lucky a piece might just graze the atmosphere and form a rare earthgrazer!
The moon is actually our enemy for this astronomical event, so try to position yourself away from city light, but near a building or tree that can block the moon light from your eyes - it might even be worthwhile taking a look before or after the moon gets too bright.
Get comfortable, listen to some music and sip a warm beverage - you may be lucky to see more than 50 meteors a minute, but it will come in fits and starts, and there’s bound to be periods where there’s nothing to see but the stars of our universe.