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More Perseids

August 11, 2015

If you can get away from the streetlights, headlights, and neon signs of the city on a summer night, you’ll still see plenty of lights flashing across the sky: Lightning from distant thunderstorms, the soft flashes of fireflies, and the quick streaks of meteors. In fact, now’s a good time to give meteor watching a try, because the Perseid meteor shower is at its best.

The Perseids are like a celestial sandstorm. As Earth crosses the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, tiny bits of comet dust sprinkle into the upper atmosphere at high speeds. They quickly vaporize, forming streaks of light across the sky.

A meteor’s brightness depends in part on the size of the particle of comet dust. Most are no bigger than BBs, and make faint meteors. But a few are as big as marbles or even larger. These make brighter meteors — some of them bright enough to see from the suburbs, or in rare cases, even the city.

You can see meteors on any night. But the number goes up when there’s a meteor shower. And that’s the case the next couple of nights, when the Perseids are at their best. You might see up to a couple of dozen meteors per hour. And there’s no moonlight to interfere with the view, so it’s well worth a look.

The Perseids all appear to “rain” into the atmosphere from the direction of the constellation Perseus. But you don’t have to look at Perseus to see the meteors. Get away from city lights, look up, and enjoy the flashes of light in the summer night.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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