When you wish upon a shooting star…it’s probably a meteoroid

Perseid Meteor 8/12/08
Creative Commons License photo credit: aresauburn™

The Perseid Meteor Showers, which occur every year around this date, are caused by the comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet itself was discovered in 1862, and could be seen again with binoculars in 1992. Calculations have shown that the comets witnessed in China in 188 A.D. and 69 B.C. were most likely the same comet. It is suspected that the comet should pass close enough to the Earth in 2126 to be visible to the naked eye (looking forward to that!) The comet should pass with in one million miles of the Earth in 3044 (a near miss.) The comet is approximately six miles across, which is the estimated size of the comet that killed off the dinosaurs millions of years ago.

Although the comet itself is currently far away, the Earth passes through the comet’s debris every year. The majority of the debris (meteoroids) is pea- or marble-sized and enters Earth’s atmosphere at roughly 133,200 mph (which is roughly 2,220 times faster than a car on the freeway, and 12,100 times as fast as I can run at top speed.) As the particle enters the atmosphere, it compresses the air in front of it, which heats it up. The temperature rises to about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which vaporizes the meteorite, creating the effect known as a “shooting star.”

Although a few of the meteorites could be seen last night and a few more tomorrow night, the best viewing time is in the predawn hours following tonight. In honor of such a spectacular natural occurance, the George Observatory in Brazos Bend Park will stay open from 9 p.m. tonight until 5 a.m. tomorrow morning

 This informational video was made for the 2008 Perseid Meteor Shower
The dates are slightly off, but all the other information is correct

Wherever you’re watching, you can use Twitter hashtag #meteorwatch to follow the action and ask questions!

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