Perseid meteor showers heading your way

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated Aug 11, 2009 at 3:31 PM EDT

The night sky will sparkle with "falling stars" on Tuesday and Wednesday as Earth passes through a trail of dusty debris from the Swift-Tuttle Comet, say scientists.

The light show, called the Perseid meteor shower, kicks off each year in late-July and increases in intensity, peaking a couple of weeks later.

On a clear night in a dark sky "you should see dozens of meteors per hour," notes Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.

East Asia is best placed to see the shower at its most intense moment, which is predicted for 1800 GMT on August 12, according to the US publication Sky and Telescope (skyandtelescope.com).

The meteors are also active for many days before and after this date, though the light reflected by a waning quarter moon may obstruct the view somewhat.

The Perseids occur when Earth runs into a trail of dust and pebbles deposited by the comet Swift-Tuttle in its 130-year orbit around the Sun.

This debris strikes the upper atmosphere at around 60 kilometers (37 miles) per second, a speed that causes it to burn up into a white-hot streaks. Bigger chunks can be seen as fireballs.

Meteor showers vary from year to year, depending on the amount of debris.

In the early 1990s, there were several spectacular Perseid shows, with bursts of several hundred meteors per hour.

Meteors are named after the constellation from which they seem to appear -- in this case, Perseus, a northern constellation lying east of Cassiopeia and north of Taurus.




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