‘Like a ball of fire’: Perseids meteor shower to peak this weekend
A celestial spectacle awaits avid stargazers this upcoming weekend, as the peak of the year’s most dazzling meteor shower, the Perseids, takes center stage.
Named after the mythical Greek hero Perseus, this meteor shower originates from the constellation bearing his name. The legend narrates Perseus’ triumph over the fearsome gorgon Medusa, vanquishing her by severing her snake-entwined head while using his reflective shield.
Although the meteor activity spans from mid-July, the zenith of the Perseids’ splendor is anticipated to grace the northern hemisphere during this weekend. Derek Smale, the UK Space Agency’s program manager for the ESA space safety and security initiative, highlights the peak is anticipated to manifest on Saturday night, extending into Sunday. Yet, he suggests that those up for a late-night venture on Sunday might still catch an awe-inspiring glimpse.
These meteors, known as the Perseids, originate when Earth traverses through the debris shed by the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. As these fragments plunge into our atmosphere at astonishing velocities, they incandesce, generating the captivating streaks of light that we observe. Interestingly, many of these fragments are no larger than a grain of sand.
Comets, often referred to as “dirty snowballs,” are archaic entities that coalesced simultaneously with our solar system roughly 4.6 billion years ago. Lucie Green, a physics professor at University College London and president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, expresses the significance of this event, stating that these minuscule dust remnants are the very building blocks of our solar system. In essence, every luminous trail tells a tale from our past.
This spellbinding occurrence finds its origin in the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which journeyed through the inner solar system in 1992 and is not slated to return until 2125.
Nasa reports that spectators may witness up to 100 meteors per hour during the peak of the Perseids. Remarkably bright meteors, known as fireballs, also make an appearance, sometimes outshining Venus in the night sky and even showcasing hues of red, blue, or green.
Derek Smale emphasizes that these fireballs can be utterly captivating, akin to witnessing a blazing sphere traversing the firmament. With these meteors being larger, their journey through the atmosphere is met with heightened resistance, evoking scintillating displays.
While the Perseids offer a more modest spectacle for the southern hemisphere, stargazers there can still savor the Southern Delta Aquariids meteor shower that peaked the previous month.
For those situated in the northern hemisphere, the Perseids are poised to be an exceptional visual feast. With the new moon’s arrival, the skies are rendered darker than usual, and even the weather forecast appears to be cooperating – at least in the UK.
To make the most of this cosmic extravaganza, Derek Smale advises leaving the bright city lights behind, stashing away mobile phones, and ascending to elevated ground. Unobstructed views of the sky are essential, and meteors might grace any part of the night expanse. As Smale urges, the counsel is simple: step outside and cast your eyes skyward.
Lucie Green encapsulates the spirit of the event, describing it as a cherished summer tradition. She envisions herself reclining in her garden, captivated by the heavens, and patiently awaiting the celestial performance.