This year’s Perseid meteor shower might be perfect for the attention-challenged

Public Domain NASA

Every year at about this time the Earth passes through the debris from comet Swift-Tuttle, which hits the atmosphere at 100,000 miles per hour. And every year I would bundle up the kids and we would all go down to the dock and look to the north-east, where the constellation Perseus is, and we would all be sitting there, freezing, drinking cocoa and complaining. Instead of outbursts of meteors, we got outbursts of whining about how few meteors there actually were. Most years, there are sixty to a hundred per hour, and a minute is a very long time in these days of short attention spans.

In sister site MNN’s earlier coverage, Kirsten noted that this year might be special, with up to a hundred per hour. In fact, new research suggest that this year may be the attention-span challenged meteor watcher’s dream light show; According to the Royal Astronomical Society and National Geographic, this year could be even better than that, as many as 200 per hour.

Russian astronomer Mikhail Maslov and Finnish astronomer Esko Lyytinen predict that this year the Earth will pass through a stream of cometary material shifted towards us by Jupiter's gravitational field. According to their model, and work by French scientist Jeremie Vaubaillon, we could see a steep rise in activity from late evening on 11 August to 0500 BST on 12 August.

We used to stay up for other meteor shows, but the Perseids is usually the best for families; it happens when it is relatively warm (this year it is HOT) and a lot of people are on vacation where they can actually see something. Astronomers agree:

Professor Mark Bailey, Director Emeritus of Armagh Observatory, said "The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year, and the predictions of a surge in activity this year make it particularly exciting this time. If you're lucky enough to have a clear sky early in the morning on 12 August, I'd definitely get up to take a look.”

Our poor editor Melissa, trapped in Brooklyn, says “I can see a dozen stars on the best of nights here, I have no hope.” But this one might be different; some Perseids are really bright, and with this many happening who knows, you might see it even in Brooklyn.

So put down that phone and look sort of north-east, but they can appear almost anywhere in the sky. This is the meteor shower for the attention-challenged. EarthSky has good suggestions for meteor watching, saving the best for last:

Remember … all good things come to those who wait. Meteors are part of nature. There’s no way to predict exactly how many you’ll see on any given night. Find a good spot, watch, wait.

Tags: Kids


treehugger slideshows