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.
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.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post it here today. Thanks!