Science

Perseids: the night of August 12-13 will be the peak of the meteor shower

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Like every year, mild summer evenings are conducive to long-term observation of the sky, especially during the Perseids. This is by far the most popular meteor shower seen in the Northern Hemisphere of the year. This year it is active from early July to early September, peaking on August 12 and 13. But what is this meteor shower? Some explanations.

The Perseids, which peak in mid-August, are considered the “best” meteor shower of the year, as one of the heaviest – an average of 50 to 100 meteors are observed per hour. Together with very fast and bright meteors, Perseid meteors often leave long “trails” of light and color behind them as they pass through Earth’s atmosphere, making them easy for skywatchers to see.

A meteor is a space rock or meteoroid that enters the Earth’s atmosphere. As it falls to Earth, the drag—or drag—of the air on the rock makes it extremely hot. This light trail is not actually a rock, but rather hot air and glowing dust as the hot rock passes through the atmosphere and disintegrates.

Where did the meteors come from during the Perseids?

Meteors are formed from the remains of particles of comets and fragments of asteroids. Comets, as they approach the Sun, see their ice evaporate and turn into dust very small pieces of rock, forming a cloud of small rocky particles. Every year, the Earth passes through these debris trails that collide with our atmosphere and break apart, creating these fiery, colorful trails in the sky. The peak of the meteor shower corresponds to the peak of meteor activity when the Earth passes through the densest part of the mudflow.

The debris that interacts with our atmosphere to form the Perseids comes from Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. It was discovered in 1862 by Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle. Its core has a diameter of 26 kilometers, almost twice the size of the object thought to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, and four times faster: it takes 133 years to orbit the sun. It was Giovanni Schiaparelli who realized in 1865 that this comet was the source of the Perseids.

The motion of Comet Swift-Tuttle, the largest object in the solar system (with the exception of the Moon), which repeatedly flew past the Earth, has been carefully studied by scientists and predicted for many years. Its last “perihelion” – the point in its orbit where it comes closest to the Sun – was in 1992, and the next one won’t be until July 12, 2126.

You should know that the point in the sky from which the Perseids seem to come – their radiance – is the constellation Perseus, which gave them the name Perseids. However, the constellation the meteor shower is named after only serves to help observers determine which shower they are looking at on any given night. The constellation is not the source of meteors.

How to see them?

If a shooting star often lasts only a fraction of a second (having an average speed of 50 km / s), then it is advisable to carefully contemplate a large area of ​​u200bu200bthe sky for at least 30 minutes – the time for which the gaze gets used. in the darkness. This observation is desirable to make in “total darkness” and to the northeast, for the Perseids. No special equipment is required.

The Perseids are much more visible in the northern hemisphere, as meteors are not visible below about 30 degrees south latitude. The best time is the hours before dawn, the darkest. Sometimes you can see meteors during the peak of activity on the night of August 12-13, as early as 22:00, according to NASA, the best time is 3:00. However, this year, unlike last year, their observations will face a serious obstacle – the Moon. Verily, it will be full and illumine the sky.

You should know that in addition to the Perseids, two more meteor showers are currently active. The first is the Southern Delta Aquarids, active July 18-August 21, 2022, peaking on the night of July 29-30, best seen from the southern tropics. These are usually small meteors that are difficult to observe, despite the fact that the full moon is only 1%.

Secondly, there are alpha Capricorns active from July 7 to August 15, 2022, with a “plateau” high centered around July 31. What is remarkable about this shower is the number of bright meteors produced during its period of activity, equally well observed on both sides of the equator.

Then we will need to wait for the Orionids between September 26 and November 22, 2022 with peak activity on the night of October 20-21, which are clearly visible despite the low density of shooting stars (10 to 20 per hour). ). These meteors come from Halley’s comet.

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