Look up! The Annual Perseid Meteor Shower is peaking this weekend over the Heartland.
Normally, around 80 to 100 meteors can be seen per hour. Some years, like 2016, there can be up to 150 to 200 per hour! Sadly, this year will be much less thanks to a bright moon in our skies. The moon will be ¾ full which means the bright light it emits will drown out some of the visible meteors streaking across our skies. At most NASA says we could expect about 40-50 per hour. Definitely still worth a jaunt outdoors and a look up.
According to NASA, Friday night into Saturday morning will likely see increased activity. The best viewing will be away from city lights and other sources of light pollution. The best part? All you need to do is lie on a blanket on your back and look straight up! No need to worry about finding the right direction in the night sky. NASA will have a live stream for those who cannot see the sky. Friday night promises to be mostly clear.
Here’s a little information about the cosmic event. Every year in the month of August the skies are graced with what is known as the Perseid Meteor Shower. This is caused by the comet Swift-Tuttle. Every 133 years it makes an orbit around the sun. Each time leaving behind a trail consisting of trillions of little pieces of debris. Every meteor we see is actually a tiny piece of the comet burning up as it strikes the Earth's atmosphere. We call them the Perseids because they appear to come out of the constellation Perseus to us here on Earth.
On a normal year our planet usually just grazes the actual debris trail of Swift-Tuttle causing a few meteors to be visible per hour. However, sometimes the planet Jupiter has an effect on what we experience here on Earth. That's right, a planet more than 600 million miles away at it's furthest orbit has an effect on a meteor shower we see on Earth! According to NASA, Jupiter can sometimes tug on the trail of debris causing the Earth to pass more directly into the comet's trail. Because of this meteor rates could be as high as 200 per hour!
When this happens it is classified as an outburst instead of just a meteor shower. This happened in 2009 and as recently as last year, in 2016.
Before you go, here are some fun facts from NASA. Did you know that each Perseid meteor travels at 132,000 mph?! That is over 36 miles per second. To put that in perspective, if you traveled from Omaha to Lincoln at the speed of a meteor you'd arrive in 1.5 seconds. Now that's fast! These meteors pose no threat to Earth as many of them burn up more than 50 miles above the surface.