Just imagine your children’s faces when you tell them that you will be waking them at 2 in the morning. When I wrote R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2, my family and I did our best to observe all special night sky events. We have spent some very special moments communing in the middle of the night. Some of the events themselves fizzled, but every single one was worth viewing together. My family’s favorite night sky viewing events are meteor showers. Meteor showers are the most immediate evidence that we are on a ball hurtling through space at a very high speed!
To understand why there are bright streaks of light during a meteor shower, imagine walking on a very windy day into an area with a lot of loose dirt. As you walk, pieces of dirt will hit the front of your body, because you are moving into the blowing dirt. That is sort of what it is like for Earth during a meteor shower. Meteor showers occur when Earth moves into and through fields of dust and debris. When this dust and debris strikes Earth, which is traveling at 60,000 kilometers per hour, the pieces burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
The Perseid meteor shower is named for the constellation Perseus where the meteors seem to come from. The debris from the Perseid meteor shower is left over from the comet Swift –Tuttle. As a comet travels it leaves a trail of dust and debris in its path. Swift-Tuttle crosses through Earth’s orbital path every 133 years* leaving dust when it does. Each year when Earth travels through this dust there is a meteor shower. There are recorded observations of the comet Swift-Tuttle in 322 BC, 69 BC, 188, 1737, 1862, and 1992. Swift-Tuttle will be visible from Earth again in 2026. I wonder if the meteor shower is spectacular the year following Swift-Tuttle’s crossing through Earth’s orbital path.
Meteor showers have a lot to offer night sky viewers. If you go out at the right time in the early morning, you will see meteors. You do not need any special equipment to view a meteor shower. They are best viewed with your unaided eye, because you have a wider field of view that way. There is something exciting about watching streaks of light go across the sky.