Perseid Meteor Shower

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Perseid Meteor Shower

Post  Alec Parker on Sun Jul 15, 2012 1:23 am

On Friday the 10th of August we will assemble at Chelveston to observe the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. I thought I would take the opportunity to remind myself what exactly this is.

First, a few definitions. A METEOR is a particle of dust or small piece of rock that comes in to our atmosphere at high speed and burns up giving us a bright trail or “shooting star” across the sky. A METEORITE is a meteor that reaches the ground! Meteors appear to come from a point in the sky which is called the “radiant”. The location of the radiant in a constellation gives the meteor shower its name. In our case the radiant is in the constellation Perseus and so the meteor shower is called The Perseids. Perseus is roughly in the northeast next to the W shape of Cassiopeia.

We get a meteor shower when we (the planet Earth) fly through the remnants of the tail of a comet. A comet on its journey around the sun will leave a trail of dust, rocks and ice and this provides the material for our meteor showers. In the case of the Perseids the comet was called Swift-Tuttle. The comet was discovered independently by American astronomers Lewis Swift on July 16, 1862 and Horace Parnell Tuttle on July 19, 1862. It may have been observed many years before by Chinese Astronomers. Its last appearance was in 1992. Its next appearance will be in 2126. The Perseid shower is regarded as one of the most reliable to be observed.

The Perseids are at their peak on the 12th and 13th August but we will actually fly through the debris from Swift-Tuttle from the 8th to the 17th August.

Let us hope for clear skies and plenty of meteor action.

Alec Parker

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