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August Meteors

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During the wee morning hours from August 9th to the 14th, you may see tens of meteors per hour streaking across our Western Slope Skies. This is the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, one of the most reliable of about 20 meteor showers that occur during the year.  Meteors, sometimes called “shooting stars”, are actually debris from comets or asteroids that have entered earth’s atmosphere at high speed. The Perseid Shower consists of icy and rocky debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, a 17 mile-wide comet that last passed near Earth in 1992. 

When comets enter the inner solar system and are heated by the sun, they expel debris in geyser-like eruptions.  Such debris has been distributed over the entire span of Comet Swift-Tuttle’s orbit. On the morning of August 12th, the Earth will travel through this comet’s orbit. Then, debris from Swift-Tuttle, consisting mostly of icy silt, sand, and gravel, will enter our atmosphere at 37 miles per second.   As this debris becomes superheated by its encounter with air, it will glow and vaporize within about a second or two, and we will see meteors.     

The best way to see Perseid meteors is to pick a dark, open area, relax in a lounge chair with a warm blanket or sleeping bag, and look high in the sky.  While the Perseids appear to emanate or “radiate” from the constellation Perseus, they are visible all over the sky after midnight, when Perseus rises above the northeastern horizon.  If conditions are clear and dark, you might see more than 60 Perseid meteors per hour over the next week. The highest meteor rate comes just before twilight on the morning of August 12th.

So, kick back under the stars during the wee hours of these August mornings and enjoy the Perseid meteors! 

Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society

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