The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most spectacular annual events for amateur stargazers and serious astronomy enthusiasts alike. During its peak, tens of thousands of shooting stars blaze across the sky each hour, wowing skywatchers as we gaze up into the heavens. We’re actually watching bits of comet debris burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, but if you indulge your imagination, it looks like stars are falling to Earth. This astronomical event is truly awe-inspiring, and you would be remiss not to step outside and look up in the wee hours of Aug. 9, 10, and/or 11.
By definition, meteors are pieces of rock or dust that enter the Earth’s atmosphere and become incandescent as a result of friction. The Perseids are caused by Comet Swift-Tuttle, the largest object known to pass close to Earth repeatedly. In 1992, this comet passed close to our planet, leaving behind a trail of debris. As we pass through this debris every year, bits of dust collide with our atmosphere and burn up in a brilliant flare of light.
Unfortunately, this month’s moon cycle is not ideally calibrated for meteor viewing. The peak of the shower is Aug. 12, but the light of that night’s nearly full moon will render most meteors invisible to human eyes. So, NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke, via space.com, recommends having a viewing party Aug. 9 or 10, when there will still be plenty of meteors and relatively less moonlight to wash them out. He also recommends driving to the darkest place you can find, away from any source of light pollution, and giving your eyes 30 minutes to fully adjust.
Are you interested in watching the meteor shower but don’t have the time to drive halfway to Harrisburg? The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education will be hosting Shooting Stars and S’mores on Aug. 9 and 10, and we would love for you to join us. The Schuylkill Center’s 340-acre property is free from sources of light pollution, making it the most ideal meteor shower viewing spot within Philadelphia city limits. Shooting Stars and S’mores will also feature an educational lecture from Renee Stein and Dave Walker of the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society and, of course, delicious campfire treats. Register at schuylkillcenter.org. We look forward to seeing you there!