Meteorite Before Your Eyes

August 8, 2016
Look out, look up!Credit NASA/JPL
Look out, look up!

This week Hal gives us a heads up on the tail end of Comet Swift - Tuttle.

We all love to see shooting stars in the sky. These brilliant, brief, and bedazzling streaks of light are both beautiful and fascinating.

On average night, if you lie on your back and stare at the sky you’ll see 2 to 4 meteors streak overhead per hour. But when there’s a meteor shower, you can see many more, and the very best meteor shower happens in mid August – the Perseids.

Meteor showers occur when the Earth, in traveling around the Sun, runs into the debris trail left by a comet or asteroid as that object orbited the Sun, and was blasted by the solar winds.

There is only one other meteor shower that can rival the Perseids, and that one occurs in the winter, when it’s cold outside. The Perseids cooperate by putting on a wonderful show during a warm month.

In an average year, an observer, especially after midnight, will see 50 to 60 meteors per hour during the Perseids. But every 11.86 years, something very remarkable happens. We’ve talked before about Jupiter being a super planet, relative to all the other planets. It’s 2 ½ times more massive than all the rest of the planets put together, and so it’s gravity is also far more intense than anywhere else in the solar system other than the Sun. And every 11.86 years, Jupiter passes under the debris trail left in space by comet Swift – Tuttle, and Jupiter’s gravity nudges those uncounted trillions of particles slightly, and just enough to make a much higher number are pushed into Earth’s path around the Sun. Thus, this year instead of 50 to 60 meteors per hour, astronomers predict we could see 150 and 160 meteors per hour. And there’s a chance it could be even higher than that. We won’t know until the nights of August 12-14. So get outside, look toward the north, and get ready for fireworks.

If you’d like to take a closer look at the Perseids, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit KRCC.org or CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!