Perseids Put On A Thrilling Show … And They’re Not Done Yet

A magnitude -1 Perseid zips directly in front of the star Menkalinan (Beta Aurigae) in the constellation Auriga this morning, August 13. The orange puffs are low clouds lit by light pollution from the city of Duluth, Minn. Credit: Bob King
A magnitude -1 Perseid zips in front of the star Menkalinan (Beta Aurigae) in the constellation Auriga this morning, August 13. The orange puffs are low clouds lit by light pollution from the city of Duluth, Minn. Details: 20mm lens, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 30-second exposure. Credit: Bob King

I’m hoping you all had a chance to spy some Perseids this week. If weather was a problem, take heart. The shower will continue, although with reduced numbers, over the next several nights. Thunderstorms visited my neck of the woods for last night’s peak activity, but the sky cleared just in time this morning (3:30 a.m.) for an hour of excellent viewing. I stretched out in a reclining chair and listening to the shrill buzz of katydids mingle with the drip-drip of rainwater falling from the leaves as one after another meteor made fiery tracks across the sky.

International Meteor Association graph showing the increase in the number of Perseid meteors from mid-July to maximum overnight August 12-13. ZHR or zenithal hourly rate is an idealized number based on ideal conditions
International Meteor Association graph showing the increase in the number of Perseid meteors from mid-July to shower maximum August 12-13. ZHR or zenithal hourly rate is the number of meteors per hour based on ideal conditions. Credit: IMO

In 45 minutes I counted 20 Perseids and a couple sporadic or random meteors. One especially bright Perseid left a glowing streak or “train” visible for several seconds. Some observers reported seeing more than a hundred per hour. While the data from meteor observers around the world is still coming in, it appears that the peak occurred overnight with a maximum of 78 meteors per hour based on 7,455 meteors reported. This number seems a little low to me, so perhaps the shower didn’t produce as many meteors as expected. For updates, please go to the International Meteor Organization’s Perseid Quicklook site.

This stunning photo was taken in rural northwestern Wisconsin in the early hours of August 12. The short, bright streak at bottom is an airplane and the other faint trail is a satellite. Credit: Matthew Moses
This stunning photo was taken in rural northwestern Wisconsin in the early hours of August 12. The short, bright streak at bottom is an airplane and the other faint trail is a satellite. Credit: Matthew Moses

The time was splendid and peaceful. Watching how swiftly the shower meteors shot across the sky made the Earth’s motion through space palpable. Anyone can look up the speed of Earth in its orbit around the sun — 18.5 miles a second. But you really need a meteor shower to sense that motion. As our planet plowed into the stream of dust and grit left behind by comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle overnight, the burning debris fleeing by shocked me into the realization of just how fast we’re moving.

A bright Perseid appears to fly out of the Pleaides (Seven Sisters) star cluster this morning. Credit: Bob King
A bright Perseid appears to fly out of the Pleaides (Seven Sisters) star cluster this morning. Credit: Bob King

None of the meteors I saw was bright enough to show in color. They all looked white. Cameras, which are much more sensitive, do better. Take a look at meteor photos above and you’ll notice that green at the start of the trail and red at the end. Comet crumbs produce distinctive colors when they’re vaporized that tell us about their composition. Sodium produces a bright yellow color, nickel shows as green, and magnesium as blue-white. Red is usually caused by oxygen and nitrogen molecules in our atmosphere.

What a scene! A long, faint Perseid streaks at upper left in this photo taken Camera, Nikon D800e. Lens, Rokinon 12mm fisheye; image cropped. Iso 3200, 15seconds at f/3.2. Location, Westborough, MA @ ~11:30 p.m. Wednesday night.
What a scene! A needlelike Perseid pierces the sky at upper left in this photo taken in Westborough, Mass. late Wednesday night. Details: Nikon D800e.
12mm fisheye; image cropped. ISO 3200, 15seconds at f/3.2. Credit: Jonathan McElvery

A unique meteor? Alien spacecraft? No, just an airplane with flashing lights captured in the camera this morning. Credit: Bob King
A unique meteor? Alien spacecraft? No, just an airplane with flashing lights passing through this morning. Credit: Bob King

Tonight the weather looks more serene with clear skies returning. I’ll be out again and hope you will, too. If you happened to catch a photo of a Perseid in the past couple nights, please send it to me at: rking@duluthnews.com and I’ll post it here today. Thanks!

3 Responses

  1. Hi Bob from New Brunswick. After being clouded out Wed night,I and 2 friends tried again tonite and were rewarded with a lovely display. Apart from some clouds in the southern part of sky,the rest of the heavens were clear-and unusually sharp. Between 10PM and midnight,we saw 40 meteors,of which 15 were bright with easily seen trails. This is a high percentage of bright meteors. So the shower was a good one and gratifying to see,after more than a few rainouts.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Edward,
      Thanks for writing in. The rate you saw – about 20 per hour – was roughly what I saw Thursday morning.

  2. John

    John; South Shore Long Island. Despite a nasty street light and work the next day. 40.6686° N, 73.4925° W … 10pm > 11:30pm. 18 Count. PS. The warm up was an 8pm full rainbow! Great website !

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