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The 2008 Perseid Meteor Shower August 9, 2008

Posted by jcconwell in Asteroid, Astronomy, Observatory.
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The 2008 Perseid Meteor Shower peaks this year on Tuesday, August 12. If you miss the peak, the shower can be seen several days on either side of this date. Meteor showers are as low tech as you can get, don’t bother getting out the telescope, put away the binoculars. The naked eye is the best thing to observe the shower. That and either a lawn chair or blanket.

The shower occurs when the Earth passes through the debris of the Comet Swift-Tuttle or, more technically 109P/Swift-Tuttle. Now comets, to a first order approximation, are dirty snowballs. When they get near the sun and heat up the volatile gas, dust, and larger hunks break off, forming the tail that comets are famous for. This debris stays more or less in the same orbit, due to Newton’s Laws, and over many cycles around the sun it spreads out. When the Earth goes through the orbit of the comet it runs into this debris and we get a light show from the comet fragments burning up in our atmosphere.

The best time to observe will be after the moon sets on August 12 between 2 AM to dawn. Look to the northeast about half way up to the zenith. The meteors will appear to come from a point in Perseus. This effect is the same as driving a car in a snowstorm. All the snowflakes appear to radiate form a point.

NASA

NASA

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