WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Perseid Meteor Shower Returns

Aug 10, 2012

The Perseid meteor shower has returned.

The spectacular light show has a humble origin. Dr. Kishor Kabale of Western Illinois University says it's debris from a comet. He describes it as a “dirty snowball.”

He says, “Some of the snow melts and the dirt kind of gets loosened-up and it's distributed in the comet's orbit. Because of the friction with (the) atmosphere it basically burns up. All these small pieces and the light that's generated in the process is what we get to see.”

You might be tempted to use optical aids. Dr. Kapale says they might hinder your view.

He says, “The problem with binoculars and telescopes is, actually, you won't get that good of a view because you don't have a wide field of view for those. So it's actually easier to see it with (the) unaided eye.”

Kapale says scientists do not get excited about the meteor shower-unless one of the meteorites survives its journey through the atmosphere and hits the ground.  He says meteors from this shower rarely survive that journey through the sky.

The shower can be seen throughout the month. He says the best time to view it is Saturday night starting at 11 p.m. and continuing past midnight into Sunday morning. During the peak activity 30 to 60 meteors per hour will streak through the atmosphere and leave a visible trail.

The debris appears to streak from the Perseus constellation in the northeast sky. Hence the name.

Perseus is a hero of Greek mythology.  He killed the gorgon, who could turn men to stone with one gaze.  To avoid that fate, he looked at the gorgon's reflection in his polished shield.

Dr. Kapale says similar meteor showers will be visible in the last half of each of the months of October, November and December.