Vail Daily column: The Perseids are here
Proclaimed by many to be the most beautiful meteor shower of the year for the Northern Hemisphere, the Perseids are set to arrive in their most impressive in mid-August. Although many meteors can already be seen in the night sky now, the peak is predicted for Aug. 10-13, with the best chance for viewing between midnight and dawn.
Every summer these marvelous meteors dazzle our Colorado sky when Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle. The Earth’s atmosphere is currently being bombarded with the comet’s left-over debris. These bits and pieces smash into our atmosphere at around 130,000 miles per hour and burning brilliantly, they fall through the sky as the Perseid meteors. If we are lucky, our planet will cross through an unusually dense cluster of comet dust (known as meteoroids) and we could potentially see an increase of meteors this year!
Comet Swift-Tuttle completes its orbit around the sun every 133 years, reaching out past Pluto at its farthest point from the sun, the aphelion, and inside Earth’s orbit as it moves around the sun. When the comet reaches the inner solar system, the sun warms and softens the ice, releasing fresh comet rubble into its orbital stream. The comet is closest to the sun when it reaches its perihelion. The last time the earth crossed the comet’s path during perihelion was in the summer of 1992, and it won’t reach this point again until the year 2126. When this happens, more debris will fill the comet’s stream meaning even more magnificent meteors in the (unfortunately for all of us) far future!
For optimal viewing pleasure of this summer’s show, find a cozy place out and away from as much artificial light as possible — the darker the better. Don’t forget to bring warm clothes, a blanket and some hot chocolate or (for all of you night owls out there), coffee if you wish to stay awake for the entire show. Remember, your eyes can take up to 45 minutes (this is approximately how long it takes the sun to completely set and rise), to adjust to the darkness, so patience is vital. Give yourself at least an hour once your sight has acclimated to view the show; you could potentially see up to 100 meteors in one hour! Also, keep your eyes peeled in early to mid-evening for earthgrazers — long, slow and colorful meteors that run horizontal across the night sky. Good luck and be sure to share this year’s memorable meteor gazing experience with the special people in your life!
Nicole Abrams is a natural science educator at Walking Mountains Science Center. She loves her responsibility of fostering a sense of place in the natural world for students of all ages while teaching at summer camp. Abrams also enjoys exploring the beautiful Rocky Mountains with friends, writing, reading and soaking up the summer sunshine in her spare time.