The early hours of August 13 will provide excellent views of the annual Perseid meteor shower, when particles of comet dust hit our atmosphere at 37 miles per second. Steve Mirsky reports
You can lie down on the job and still do some science very early Monday morning. Because the first few hours of August 13th are the best time to view the annual Perseid meteor shower. And a concurrent new moon means that conditions should be very good to see a lot of shooting stars. The following few days should provide good viewing too.
The bright streaks of light you’ll see in the sky are particles of dust ejected by the comet Swift Tuttle, burning up about 80 miles overhead. We pass through this cosmic rubble at the same time each year. The particles hit the atmosphere at about 37 miles per second, which creates a white-hot streak of superheated air. The shooting stars seem to be coming out of the constellation Perseus, near Cassiopeia. Hence the name Perseids.
The dust motes are mighty small, ranging from the size of a grain of sand to perhaps a pea. In fact, to get an idea of the estimated size, color and texture of the particles, just open a box of Grape Nuts. So find some open sky, lie down and enjoy.