Perseid Meteor Shower Briefly Storms, Still Has Legs

A brilliant Perseid meteor streaks along the Summer Milky Way as seen from Cinder Hills Overlook at Sunset Crater National Monument—12 August 2016 2:40 AM (0940 UT). It left a glowing ion trail that lasted about 30 seconds. The camera caught a twisting smoke trail that drifted southward over the course of several minutes.
A brilliant Perseid meteor streaks along the Summer Milky Way as seen from Cinder Hills Overlook at Sunset Crater National Monumen at 2:40 a.m. (9:40 UT) August 12.  It left a glowing ion trail that lasted about 30 seconds. The camera caught a twisting smoke trail that drifted southward over the course of several minutes. Credit: Jeremy Perez

The Perseid meteor shower must have looked fantastic from 10,000 feet. That’s how high you would have had to go to get past the pervasive fog and overcast skies at my home last night. Tonight looks a little better for weather, so I’ll do what all hopeful amateurs astronomers do. Set the alarm for 2 a.m. and peek out the shade looking for those glimmers of starlight that indicate clear skies.

A composite photo, made from images taken last night August 11-12 from the UK, captures multiple Perseids. Credit: Peter Greig
A composite photo, made from images taken last night August 11-12 from the UK, captures multiple Perseids. Credit: Peter Greig

From observations reported as of mid-afternoon to the International Meteor Observers 2016 Perseids Quick-Look site, it appears the greatest activity or highest meteor counts happened over Europe and points east in two outbursts: a brief but intense display around 23:15 Universal Time (6:15 p.m. CDT in daylight) August 11 when some observers briefly saw up to 15 Perseids a minute (!) with many bright ones, and a second peak starting around 2:00 UT (9 p.m. CDT) and lasting till 5:00 UT (midnight CDT).


90+ Perseid meteors captured on video August 11-12, 2016 by Ohio amateur John Chumack

While Europeans clearly hit the jackpot — some observers calling it the best since the 2002 Leonid storm — U.S. observers varied in their meteor counts. A few thought the shower was a bust, others reported numbers more typical of an “average year” shower. It appears that Earth passed through a dense filament of comet dust while it was night in Europe but late afternoon in the Americas. C’est la vie météore!

We should be past peak by today, but experience shows that tonight should still be a very good time for Perseid watching. Indeed, the next few nights will reward skywatchers with at least a dozen an hour. I’ll be out watching and hopefully not imagining what’s happening 10,000 feet over my head. Good luck to you too!

Gallery: 2015 Perseids Are Putting on a Show

Have you been looking up the past few nights, trying to see the Perseid Meteor Shower? Many of our readers have been turning their eyes — and cameras — to the skies, with spectacular results. This year’s Perseids were predicted to be one of the best ever, since there has been little to no moonlight to upstage the shower. As you can see from the images here, many astrophotographers were able to capture fast and bright meteors, and even some that left persistent trains.

Remember, tonight (Wednesday, August 12, 2015) is projected to be the peak, so if you’ve got clear skies, take advantage of this opportunity to see a great meteor shower. You can find out how and when to see them in our previous detailed articles by our in-house observing experts David Dickinson and Bob King.

And enjoy the view from our readers in this gallery of 2015 Perseids:

A Perseid Meteor, the Milky Way and the photographer on August 11, 2015 near Bamburgh, Northumberland, England. Credit and copyright:  Peter Greig.
A Perseid Meteor, the Milky Way and the photographer on August 11, 2015 near Bamburgh, Northumberland, England. Credit and copyright:
Peter Greig.
An 'exploding' Perseid meteor as seen on August 11, 2015. Credit and copyright: Chris Lyons.
An ‘exploding’ Perseid meteor as seen on August 11, 2015. Credit and copyright: Chris Lyons.
Bright Perseid and Perseus. Credit and copyright: Chris Lyons.
Bright Perseid and Perseus. Credit and copyright: Chris Lyons.
A green Perseid meteor, along with 2 satellites show up in this image taken on August 11, 2015. Credit and copyright: eos-001 on Flickr.
A green Perseid meteor, along with 2 satellites show up in this image taken on August 11, 2015. Credit and copyright: eos-001 on Flickr.
Perseid meteor from early morning, August 12, 2015 in Weatherly, Pennsylvania. Taken with a Canon 6D and Samyang 14mm lens, 40 second exposure at ISO 3200, unguided. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
Perseid meteor from early morning, August 12, 2015 in Weatherly, Pennsylvania. Taken with a Canon 6D and Samyang 14mm lens, 40 second exposure at ISO 3200, unguided. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
Perseid Meteor near Cassiopeia along with the Andromeda Galaxy, as seen from France on August 10, 2015. Credit and copyright: VegaStar Carpentier/ VegaStar Carpentier Photography.
Perseid Meteor near Cassiopeia along with the Andromeda Galaxy, as seen from France on August 10, 2015. Credit and copyright: VegaStar Carpentier/ VegaStar Carpentier Photography.
A Perseid Meteor as seen on August 8, 2015, taken from Oxfordshire with a Canon 1100D + 18-55mm lens, ISO-1600 for 30 seconds. Credit and copyright: Mary Spicer.
A Perseid Meteor as seen on August 8, 2015, taken from Oxfordshire with a Canon 1100D + 18-55mm lens, ISO-1600 for 30 seconds. Credit and copyright: Mary Spicer.

Prolific night sky photographer John Chumack near Dayton, Ohio put together this video of 81 Perseid meteors he captured on August 12, 2015 with his Automated low light -Meteor Video Camera Network:

If you are clouded out, you can still enjoy the shower. NASA TV will be tracking the Perseids live on Wednesday, August 12 starting at 10PM EDT/02:00 UT:

The 2015 Perseids: Weather Prospects, Prognostications and More

The venerable ‘old faithful of meteor showers’ is on tap for this week, as the August Perseids gear up for their yearly performance. Observers are already reporting enhanced rates from this past weekend, and the next few mornings are crucial for catching this sure-fire meteor shower.

First, here’s a quick rundown on prospects for 2015. The peak of the shower as per theoretical modeling conducted by Jérémie Vaubaillon projects a broad early maximum starting around Wednesday, August 12th at 18:39 UT/2:39 PM EDT. This favors northeastern Asia in the early morning hours, as the 1862 dust trail laid down by Comet 109P Swift-Tuttle — the source of the Perseids — passes 80,000 km (20% of the Earth-Moon distance, or about twice the distance to geostationary orbit) from the Earth. This is worth noting, as the last time we encountered this same stream was 2004, when the Perseids treated observers to enhanced rates up towards 200 per hour. Typically, the Perseids exhibit a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of 80-100 per hour on most years.

Image credit
The terrestrial situation at the projected peak of the 2015 Perseids. Image credit: NOAA/Dave Dickinson

This translates into a local peak for observers worldwide on the mornings of August 12th and 13th. Comet 109P Swift-Tuttle orbits the Sun once every 120 years, and last reached perihelion in 1992, enhancing the rates of the Perseids throughout the 1990s.

Don’t live in northeast Asia? Don’t despair, as meteor showers such as the Perseids can exhibit broad multiple peaks which may arrive early or late. Mornings pre-dawn are the best time to spy meteors, as the Earth has turned forward into the meteor stream past local midnight, and rushes headlong into the oncoming stream of meteor debris. It’s a metaphor that us Floridians know all too well: the front windshield of the car gets all the bugs!

Perseid radiant
The flight of the Perseid radiant through August. Image credit: Dave Dickinson/Stellarium

Weather prospects — particularly cloud cover, or hopefully, the lack of it — is a factor on every observer’s mind leading up to a successful meteor hunting expedition. Fortunately here in the United States southeast, August mornings are typically clear, until daytime heating gives way to afternoon thunder storms. About 48 hours out, we’re seeing favorable cloud cover prospects for everyone in the CONUS except perhaps the U.S. northeast.

Weather and cloud cover prospects for the mornings of August 12th and August 13th. Image credit: NOAA
Weather and cloud cover prospects for the mornings of August 12th and August 13th. Image credit: NOAA

The Moon is also under 48 hours from New on Wednesday, allowing for dark skies. This is the closest New Moon to the peak of the Perseids we’ve had since 2007, and it won’t be this close again until 2018.

Fun fact: the August Perseids, October Orionids, November Leonids AND the December Geminids are roughly spaced on the calendar in such a way that if the Moon phase is favorable for one shower on a particular year, it’ll nearly always be favorable (and vice versa) on the others as well.

Sky watchers have observed the annual Perseid meteors since antiquity, and the shower is often referred to as ‘The Tears of Saint Lawrence.’ The Romans martyred Saint Lawrence on a hot grid iron on August 10th, 258 AD. The radiant crosses from the constellation Perseus in early August, and sits right on the border of Cassiopeia and Camelopardalis on August 12th at right ascension 3 hours 10’ and declination +50N 50.’ Technically, the shower should have the tongue-twisting moniker of the ‘Camelopardalids’ or perhaps the ‘Cassiopeiaids!’

The last few years have seen respectable activity from the Perseids:

2014- ZHR = 68 (Full Moon year)

2013- ZHR = 110

2012- ZHR = 120

2011- ZHR = 60 (Full Moon year)

2010- ZHR = 90

You can see the light-polluting impact of the nearly Full Moon on the previous years listed above. Light pollution has a drastic effect on the number of Perseids you’ll see. Keep in mind, a ZHR is an ideal rate, assuming the radiant is directly overhead and skies are perfectly dark. Most observers will see significantly less. We like to watch at an angle about 45 degrees from the radiant, to catch meteors in sidelong profile.

Imaging the Perseids is as simple as setting up a DSLR on a tripod as taking long exposures of the sky with a wide angle lens. Be sure to take several test shots to get the combination of f-stop/ISO/and exposure just right for current sky conditions. This year, we’ll be testing a new intervalometer to take automated exposures while we count meteors.

Clouded out? NASA TV will be tracking the Perseids live on Wednesday, August 12th starting at 10PM EDT/02:00 UT:

Remember, you don’t need sophisticated gear to watch the Perseids… just a working set of ‘Mark-1 eyeballs.’ You can even ‘hear’ meteor pings on an FM radio on occasion similar to lightning static if you simply tune to an unused spot on the dial. Sometimes, you’ll even hear a distant radio station come into focus as it’s reflected off of an ionized meteor trail:

And if you’re counting meteors, don’t forget to report ‘em to the International Meteor Organization and tweet ‘em out under hashtag #Meteorwatch.

Good luck and good meteor hunting!

Astrophotos: 2014 Perseid Meteor Shower

“The sum total of 2 1/2 hours worth of images – one meteor!” lamented photographer Roger Hutchinson (see his image below).

A bright Moon is not conducive seeing and capturing meteors on camera, but some astrophotographers persevered and managed to get some photos of this year’s Perseid Meteor Shower. Enjoy the views from photographers who submitted photos to Universe Today via our Flickr group and on Twitter:

Two Perseid meteors over Mt. Cephren, in Banff, Alberta, Canada on August 11, 2014, caught in two separate exposures and composited into one frame. Credit and copyright: Alan Dyer/Amazing Sky Photography.
Two Perseid meteors over Mt. Cephren, in Banff, Alberta, Canada on August 11, 2014, caught in two separate exposures and composited into one frame. Credit and copyright: Alan Dyer/Amazing Sky Photography.
A bright Perseid meteor over the UK on August 13, 2014. Credit and copyright: Richard Fleet.
A bright Perseid meteor over the UK on August 13, 2014. Credit and copyright: Richard Fleet.
Perseid Meteor and the Veil Nebula as seen from Weatherly, Pennsylvania on August 14, 2014. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
Perseid Meteor and the Veil Nebula as seen from Weatherly, Pennsylvania on August 14, 2014. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.

The sum total of 2 1/2 hours worth of images – one meteor.

A blue Perseid Meteor on August 14, 2015. Credit and copyright: David Strange.
A blue Perseid Meteor on August 14, 2015. Credit and copyright: David Strange.

A Perseid meteor on August 11, 2014 seen over the Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve near Alentejo, Portugal. Credit and copyright: Miguel Claro.
A Perseid meteor on August 11, 2014 seen over the Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve near Alentejo, Portugal. Credit and copyright: Miguel Claro.
A lone Perseid meteor on August 12, 2014 over the UK. Credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.
A lone Perseid meteor on August 12, 2014 over the UK. Credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.
A double cluster and a Perseid meteor on August 13, 2014. This image is a composite of 24 or so 44 second images with the meteor brushed in from the single frame that captured it.  Credit and copyright: Brian Who Is Called Brian on Flickr.
A double cluster and a Perseid meteor on August 13, 2014. This image is a composite of 24 or so 44 second images with the meteor brushed in from the single frame that captured it. Credit and copyright: Brian Who Is Called Brian on Flickr.
A bright Perseid meteor as seen from the Exeter Station of the UK Meteor Network. Credit and copyright: John Maclean.
A bright Perseid meteor as seen from the Exeter Station of the UK Meteor Network. Credit and copyright: John Maclean.

Above is one image from John Maclean of the UK’s Meteor Network, who sent us several image. You can see a collection of the best images from the UK’s Meteor Observation Network here.

Star trails and the Perseid meteors over the Bembridge LifeBoat Station on the Isle of Wight. Credit and copyright: Jamie Currie.
Star trails and the Perseid meteors over the Bembridge LifeBoat Station on the Isle of Wight. Credit and copyright: Jamie Currie.

Here’s a compilation of meteors from NASA’s Meteor Network seen from August 12-13, 2014.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

When Good Meteor Showers Go Bad: Prospects for the 2014 Perseids

It’s that time of year again, when the most famous of all meteor showers puts on its best display.

Why are the Perseids such an all ‘round favorite of sky watchers?  Well, while it’s true that other annual meteor showers such as the Quadrantids and Geminids can exceed the Perseids in maximum output, the Perseids do have a few key things going for them. First, the shower happens in mid-August, which finds many northern hemisphere residents camping out under warm, dark skies prior to the start of the new school year. And second, unlike showers such as the elusive Quads which peak over just a few hours, the Perseids enjoy a broad span of enhanced activity, often covering a week or more.

Credit: JPL
The orientation of the orbital path of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle and the position of the Earth on August 12th. Credit: JPL-Horizons.

These are all good reasons to start watching for Perseids now. Here’s the low down on the Perseid meteors for 2014:

The History: The Perseids are sometimes referred to as “The Tears of Saint Lawrence,” who was martyred right around the same date on August 10th, 258 A.D. The source of the shower is comet 109P Swift-Tuttle, which  was first identified as such by Schiaparelli in 1866. The comet itself visited the inner solar system again recently in 1992 on its 120 year orbit about the Sun, and rates were enhanced throughout the 1990s.

A 2013 Perseid pierces the plane of the Milky Way.
A 2013 Perseid pierces the plane of the Milky Way. Credit: Stephen Rahn.

Unlike most showers, the Perseids have a very broad peak, and observers and automated networks such as UKMON and NASA’s All Sky Camera sites have already begun to catch activity starting in late July.

Credit: The UK-MON network.
A pair of early 2014 Perseids recently captured by UKMON’s Wilcot station. Credit: The UK-MON network.

In recent years, the rates for the Perseids have been lowering a bit but are still enhanced, with ZHRs at 91(2010), 58(2011), 122(2012), and 109(2013). It’s also worth noting that the Perseids typically exhibit a twin peak maximum within a 24 hour span. The International Meteor Organization maintains an excellent page for quick look data to check out what observers worldwide are currently seeing. The IMO also encourages observers worldwide to submit meteor counts by location. Note that the phase of the Moon was near Full in 2011, with observing circumstances very similar to 2014.

The Prospects for 2014: Unfortunately, the 2014 Perseid meteors have a major strike going against them this year: the Moon will be at waning gibbous during its peak and just two days past Full illumination. This will make for short exposure times and light polluted skies. There are, however, some observational strategies that you can use to combat this: one is to place a large building or hill between yourself and the Moon while you observe — another is to start your morning vigil a few days early, before the Moon reaches Full. The expected Zenithal Hourly Rate for 2014 is predicted to hover around 90 and arrive around 00:15 to 2:00 UT on August 13th favoring Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Created by Author
The orientation of Earth’s shadow during the projected peak of the Perseids on August 13th at 00:15 Universal Time.  The positions where the Sun, Moon, and radiant of the Perseids are directly overhead are also noted. Created by Author.

The Radiant: It’s strange but true: meteor shower radiants wander slightly across the sky during weeks surrounding peak activity, due mostly to the motion of the Earth around the Sun. Because of this, the radiant of the Perseids is not actually in the constellation Perseus on the date that it peaks! At its maximum, the radiant actually sits juuusst north of the constellation that it’s named for on the border of Camelopardalis and Cassiopeia. This is a great pedantic point to bring up with your friends on your August meteor vigil… they’ll sure be glad that you pointed this out to ’em and hopefully, invite you back for next year’s Perseid watch.

The actual position of the radiant sits at 3 Hours 04’ Right Ascension and +58 degrees north declination.

Credit: Starry Night Education software.
The movement of the radiant of the Perseids. The sky is simulated for latitude 30 degrees north at 2:00 AM local on August 13th. Credit: Starry Night Education software.

Meteor-speak: Don’t know your antihelion from a zenithal hourly rate? We wrote a whole glossary that’ll have you talking meteors like a pro for Adrian West’s outstanding Meteorwatch site a few years back. Just remember, the crucial “ZHR” of a shower that is often quoted is an ideal extrapolated rate… light pollution, the true position of the radiant, observer fatigue and limited field of view all conspire to cause you to see less than this predicted maximum. The universe and its meteor showers are indeed a harsh mistress!

Observing: But don’t let this put you off. As Wayne Gretsky said, “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take,” and the same is true with meteor observing: you’re sure to see exactly zero if you don’t observe at all. Some of my most memorable fireball sightings over the years have been Perseids. And remember, the best time to watch for meteors is after local midnight, as the Earth is turned forward into the meteor stream. Remember, the car windshield (Earth) gets the bugs (meteors) moving down the summer highway…

Good luck, and let us know of those tales of Perseid hunting and send those meteor pics in to Universe Today!

Incredible Footage Shows a Perseid Meteor Exploding

Personally, I’ve never seen anything like this, and photographer and digital artist Michael K. Chung said he couldn’t believe what he saw when he was processing images he took for a timelapse of the Perseid meteor shower. It appears he captured a meteor explosion and the resulting expansion of a shock wave or debris ring.

“It was taken early in the morning on August 12, 2013 from my backyard in Victorville, CA,” Michael told Universe Today via email. “The fade to white is NOT an edit- it is overexposure due to the sun coming up. From what I can tell, the timelapse sequence of the explosion and expanding debris span an actual time of approximately 20 minutes.”

Michael said because he shoots at much higher resolution than 720p, he’s able to provide two different sequences in this video: one is with the full frame of each capture scaled/reduced and then cropped down to 1280×720, and the other is with the full frame kept at resolution with just the region around the explosion cropped to 1280×720. “I included each sequence twice – once at 24 frames per second and the other at around 12 fps.”

Amazing!

Since I’ve never seen anything like this, I decided to have one of our observing experts provide his opinion. UT writer David Dickinson said this is definitely legitimate.

“What cinches it for me is that the meteor was moving in the right direction for a Perseid,” Dave told me. “I see Perseus rising to the right, the plane of the Milky Way and Andromeda just above center.”

Dave said he has seen several meteors that leave lingering smoke trains. “I usually carry binoculars to examine these,” he said, “and saw several examples of this during the 1998 Leonid meteor storm from the desert in Kuwait, one of the most awesome things I’ve seen. Ever.”

Dave concurs, great catch by Michael Chung!

Update: Daniel Fischer provided a link to some imagery and information of the 1998 Leonid observations, showing persistent trains and more. Daniel also provided a more accurate description of what Michael Chung captured: “a persistent train after a Perseids fireball, being torn apart by upper atmosphere wind shear.”

Second update:

We heard from a few more people who also witnessed and captured similar Perseids with persistent trains.

Steve Knight from the UK also captured some explody-Perseids this year. Take a look at his video below, and at :15 and :19 there are fireballs followed by expanding cloud of debris — to see it better expand the video and look at the top right part of the screen. Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is visible drifting in from the left.

And Steve also provided animated gifs of the explosions:

Aug 13th 00:40 #pers


<a href=Aug 13th 00:50 #perseid fireball + expanding train GIF. A #no... on Twitpic

Also, Randy Halverson from Dakotalapse, whose work we feature frequently on UT sent a couple of images of persistent trains from meteors, like this one:

Meteor with persistent train, taken on October 6th, 2012, from the same spot a similar image was taken a year earlier. Credit and copyright: Randy Halverson/dakotalapse.
Meteor with persistent train, taken on October 6th, 2012, from the same spot a similar image was taken a year earlier. Credit and copyright: Randy Halverson/dakotalapse.

…and this one of the cloud of debris left from a persistent train:

Cloud of debris from a meteor explosion seen near the White River in South Dakota on October 1, 2011. Credit and copyright: Randy Halverson/dakotalapse.
Cloud of debris from a meteor explosion seen near the White River in South Dakota on October 1, 2011. Credit and copyright: Randy Halverson/dakotalapse.

Watch his timelapse here, with the explosion taking place at about :53 into the film:

… with an interesting story that he set up his equipment to do a timelapse in the same place two years in a row and captured persistent trains both years. To find out more about that, as well as get more info on persistent trains, Phil Plait wrote this article about it.

There’s also an animated gif of an exploding Perseid from astromel on Flickr here.

2013 Perseids Meteor Shower: Meteor Explosion from Michael Chung on Vimeo.

Two Beautiful Timelapse Videos of the 2013 Perseid Meteor Shower

We’re still swooning over the great images and videos coming in from this year’s Perseid Meteor Shower. Here are a couple of timelapse videos just in today: the first is from P-M Hedén showing 25 Perseid meteors, but you can also see Noctilucent clouds, a faint Aurora Borealis, airglow, satellites passing over and lightning. “It was a magic night!,” P-M said.

See another view from the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter in Arizona, below:

This timelapse was created by Adam Block and shows a few hours of the experience guests at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter had on August 11/12, 2013 during the Perseids: they could look through the 0.8m Schulman telescope and enjoy being outside to see the meteors streaking overhead. Flashlights and other sources illuminate the ground and the observatory. Find out more about the observatory here.

Perseid Meteor Shower 2013: Images from Around the World

The Perseid Meteor Shower peaks tonight, but already astrophotographers have been out, enjoying the view of a little cosmic rain. This weekend provided good views for many, as these images and videos will attest. We’ll keep adding more images as they come in, but enjoy these wonderful images we’ve received so far. Our lead image is a wowza from Peter Greig from the UK. He traveled to an island off the coast of England and found exactly what he was looking for.

“This is the exact image that I imagined and planned to come home with from that trip,” Peter said via Flickr. “It is a composite of stacked images (or pieces of images). I chose the clearest background image to use for the starry sky then chose the best light painted foreground and layered it over my background. I then went through all of my images and gathered all the shots that contained a meteor, cut them out and layered them on top of my background image to demonstrate the radiant point to which the Perseid Meteors originate.”

Just gorgeous! If you’re looking to get out tonight and see the Perseids for yourself, here our “explainer” from David Dickenson of how to best see this meteor shower!

See more from our astrophotographer friends below:

Perseid Meteor and the Milky Way, in the Red Desert of Wyoming, August 11, 2013. Credit and copyright: Randy Halverson/dakotalapse.
Perseid Meteor and the Milky Way, in the Red Desert of Wyoming, August 11, 2013. Credit and copyright: Randy Halverson/dakotalapse.
Early Perseids from the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore, Maine, taken August 5, 2013. Credit and copyright: Steven Coates.
Early Perseids from the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore, Maine, taken August 5, 2013. Credit and copyright: Steven Coates.

This video is from John Chumack, who captured 142 Perseids from my backyard in Dayton, Ohio! “My video cameras actually caught many more than I had seen visually,” John said via email, expressing a little disapointment in this year’s Persieds, “from past years experiences I was expecting more Perseids!”

A persistent Perseid on August 11, 2013. Shot with Canon T1i/500D with Samyang 8mm fisheye. F5.6 / 3200ISO / 30s. Credit and copyright: darethehair on Flickr.
A persistent Perseid on August 11, 2013. Shot with Canon T1i/500D with Samyang 8mm fisheye. F5.6 / 3200ISO / 30s. Credit and copyright: darethehair on Flickr.
A very bright fireball from the Perseid meteor shower, along with the Otto Struve Telescope from the McDonald Observatory in Texas and the Milky Way. Credit and copyright: Sergio Garcia Rill/SGR Photography.
A very bright fireball from the Perseid meteor shower, along with the Otto Struve Telescope from the McDonald Observatory in Texas and the Milky Way. Credit and copyright: Sergio Garcia Rill/SGR Photography.

You can read more about this image by Sergio Garcia Rill and the ‘persistent’ neon fireball at his website.

A Perseid meteor and the constellation Cassiopeia seen over Winchester, UK. Credit and copyright: Paul Williamson.
A Perseid meteor and the constellation Cassiopeia seen over Winchester, UK. Credit and copyright: Paul Williamson.

Now more:

Can you spot a total of 6 meteors in this image? (two are very faint). This is a composite of 3 pictures stacked, each picture taken with a Canon 550D @18mm 30s Exposure at ISO 3200. Credit and copyright: Andrei Juravle.
Can you spot a total of 6 meteors in this image? (two are very faint). This is a composite of 3 pictures stacked, each picture taken with a Canon 550D @18mm 30s Exposure at ISO 3200. Credit and copyright: Andrei Juravle.
2013 Perseids Radiant Point: A composite shot of Perseid meteors emanating from the meteor shower radiant point. This composite features 9 total Perseid meteors. Credit and copyright: Scott MacNeill.
2013 Perseids Radiant Point: A composite shot of Perseid meteors emanating from the meteor shower radiant point. This composite features 9 total Perseid meteors. Credit and copyright: Scott MacNeill.
A Perseid meteor and the Milky Way. Credit and copyright: TheMagster3 on Flickr.
A Perseid meteor and the Milky Way. Credit and copyright: TheMagster3 on Flickr.
Perseid meteor shower (and equipment!) taken on August 11, 2013 near Monte Romano, Lazio, Italy, with a Nikon D5200. Credit and copyright: marcopics3000 on Flickr.
Perseid meteor shower (and equipment!) taken on August 11, 2013 near Monte Romano, Lazio, Italy, with a Nikon D5200. Credit and copyright: marcopics3000 on Flickr.
Perseid Meteor Shower and Milky Way image shot in Hampstead, North Carolina on a Canon 7D @10mm 30s f/4 ISO 2500.  Credit and copyright: K.C. Goshert.
Perseid Meteor Shower and Milky Way image shot in Hampstead, North Carolina on a Canon 7D @10mm 30s f/4 ISO 2500. Credit and copyright: K.C. Goshert.

New images added 8/13/13:

Perseid meteor captured by Emilia Howes, aged 7, at Lacock in Wiltshire, England.
Perseid meteor captured by Emilia Howes, aged 7, at Lacock in Wiltshire, England.
Perseid Meteors over Ancient Bristlecone Pine in the White Mountains of California. This is a composite shot of 73 meteors, aligned as they were captured according to where they were against the stars. Credit and copyright: Kenneth Brandon.
Perseid Meteors over Ancient Bristlecone Pine in the White Mountains of California. This is a composite shot of 73 meteors, aligned as they were captured according to where they were against the stars. Credit and copyright: Kenneth Brandon.
Perseids over Joshua Tree. This is a composite image composed of 180 stills from a static timelapse sequence, aiming towards the  North Star. Taken on August 9, 2013. Credit and copyright: Sean Parker/Sean Parker Photography.
Perseids over Joshua Tree. This is a composite image composed of 180 stills from a static timelapse sequence, aiming towards the North Star. Taken on August 9, 2013. Credit and copyright: Sean Parker/Sean Parker Photography.
'My first-ever photo of a meteor!' said astrophotographer Dawn Sunrise on Flickr.  Congrats!
‘My first-ever photo of a meteor!’ said astrophotographer Dawn Sunrise on Flickr. Congrats!
Perseid meteor photographed on August 11, 2013 at 0255 EDT through broken clouds, Weatherly, PA. 20 second exposure, ISO 1600 using a Samyang 14mm lens. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
Perseid meteor photographed on August 11, 2013 at 0255 EDT through broken clouds, Weatherly, PA. 20 second exposure, ISO 1600 using a Samyang 14mm lens. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
One Perseid meteor before the clouds rolled in over Blackrod, England, August 12, 2013. Credit and copyright: TheDaveWalker on Flickr.
One Perseid meteor before the clouds rolled in over Blackrod, England, August 12, 2013. Credit and copyright: TheDaveWalker on Flickr.
Perseid meteor on August 12, 2013. Credit and copyright: Stephen Rahn.
Perseid meteor on August 12, 2013. Credit and copyright: Stephen Rahn.
Perseids Meteor 8/11/2013 El Dorado Lake, Kansas. Credit and copyright: Tom Wright.
Perseids Meteor 8/11/2013 El Dorado Lake, Kansas. Credit and copyright: Tom Wright.

More images added 8/15/13:

Meteor seen over Green Bay, Wisconsin on August 14, 2013  around 12:30 am central time. Photographer Michelle Madruga said,  'I used my measly Canon T3i and my 18-55mm lens set at 18mm. During my 30 sec exposure, this huge asteroid shot across the sky! I was lucky it was in my camera's view!' Credit and copyright: Michelle Madruga.
Meteor seen over Green Bay, Wisconsin on August 14, 2013 around 12:30 am central time. Photographer Michelle Madruga said, ‘I used my measly Canon T3i and my 18-55mm lens set at 18mm. During my 30 sec exposure, this huge asteroid shot across the sky! I was lucky it was in my camera’s view!’ Credit and copyright: Michelle Madruga.
Perseid meteor seen over the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, taken with a Canon 7D 18-55mm. Credit and copyright:  Micah Holtgraves.
Perseid meteor seen over the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, taken with a Canon 7D 18-55mm. Credit and copyright: Micah Holtgraves.
Perseid meteor. Credit and copyright: Val Camp.
Perseid meteor. Credit and copyright: Val Camp.
Perseid meteor on August 13, 2013 seen over Kootwijkerzand, at the ‘de Hoge Veluwe’, one of the last dark spots in the Netherlands. This picture was taken with an EOS 60d with a 11-16 2.8 tokina lens. Credit and copyright: Freek vd Driesschen.
Perseid meteor on August 13, 2013 seen over Kootwijkerzand, at the ‘de Hoge Veluwe’, one of the last dark spots in the Netherlands. This picture was taken with an EOS 60d with a 11-16 2.8 tokina lens. Credit and copyright: Freek vd Driesschen.

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Weekly Space Hangout – August 9, 2013

Gather round the internets for another episode of the Weekly Space Hangout. Where our experienced team of journalists, astronomers and astronomer-journalists bring you up to speed on the big happenings in the universe of space and astronomy.

Our team this week:

Reporters: Casey Dreier, David Dickinson, Amy Shira Teitel, Sondy Springmann, Nicole Gugliuci

Host: Fraser Cain

And here are the stories we covered:
Curiosity Celebrates One Year on Mars
2013 Perseids Meteor Shower
Lori Garver Leaving NASA
Kilonova Discovered
Sun’s Magnetic Field is About to Flip
Japanese HTV-4 Docked
MAVEN Update

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Friday at Noon Pacific, 3 pm Eastern. Join us live here on Universe Today, over on our YouTube account, or on Google+. Or you can watch the archive after the fact.

The 2013 Perseid Meteor Shower: An Observer’s Guide

Get set for the meteoritic grand finale of summer.

Northern hemisphere summer that is. As we head into August, our gaze turns towards that “Old Faithful” of meteor showers, the Perseids. Though summer is mostly behind us now, “meteor shower season” is about to get underway in earnest.

Pronounced “Pur-SEE-ids,” this shower falls around the second week of August, just before school goes back in for most folks. This time of year also finds many the residents of the northern hemisphere out camping and away from light-polluted suburban skies.

This year also offers a special treat, as the Moon will be safely out of the sky during key observation times. The Moon reaches New phase on August 6th at 5:51 PM EDT/ 9:51 Universal Time (UT) and will be a 32% illuminated waxing crescent around the anticipated peak for the Perseid meteors on August 12th. And speaking of which, the Perseids are infamous for presenting a double-fisted twin peak in activity. This year, the first climax for the shower is predicted for around 13:00 UT on August 12th, favoring Hawaii and the North American west coast, and the second peak is set to arrive 13 hours later at 02:00 UT, favoring Europe & Africa.

Nodal crossing for the Perseid stream and Earth’s orbit sits right around 18:00 to 21:00 UT on August 12th for 2013. The shower derives its name from the constellation Perseus, and has a radiant located near Gamma Persei at right ascension 3 hours 4 minutes and a declination of +58 degrees. Atmospheric velocities for the Perseids are on the high end as meteor showers go, at 59km/sec.

Of course, like with any meteor shower, it’s worth starting to watch a few days prior to the peak date. Although meteor streams like the Perseids have been modeled and mapped over the years, there are still lots of surprises out there. Plus, starting an early vigil is insurance that you at least catch some action in the event that you’re clouded out on game day! Like we mentioned in last week’s post on the Delta Aquarids, the Perseids are already active, spanning a season from July 17th to August 24th.

The Zenithal Hourly Rate for the Perseids is generally between 60-100 meteors. The ZHR is the number of meteors you could expect to see during optimal conditions under dark skies with the radiant directly overhead. Rates were enhanced back in the 1990’s, and 2004 saw a ZHR of 200.

The orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle and its intersection near the Earth's orbit. (Created the author using NASA/JPL ephmeris generator).
The orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle and its intersection near the Earth’s orbit. (Created by the author using NASA/JPL ephemerides generator).

The source of the Perseids is comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. Discovered on July 16th-19th, 1862 by astronomers Lewis Swift & Horace Tuttle, Swift-Tuttle is on a 133.3 year orbit and last passed through the inner solar system in late 1992. This comet will once again grace our skies in early 2126 AD.

The Perseids are also sometimes referred to as the “tears of St Lawrence,” after the Catholic saint who was martyred on August 10th, 258 AD. The Perseids have been noted by Chinese astronomers as far back as 36 AD, when it was recorded that “more than 100 meteors flew thither in the morning.” The annual nature of the shower was first described by Belgian astronomer Adolphe Quételet in 1835.

Enhanced rates for the Perseids marked the return of comet Swift-Tuttle in the 1990s. Recent years have seen rates as reported by the International Meteor Organization at a ZHR=175(2009), 91(2010), 58(2011), & a resurgence of a ZHR=122 last year.

Just what will 2013 bring? There’s one truism in meteor observing—you definitely won’t see anything if you do not get out and observe. Meteor shower observing requires no equipment, just clear skies and patience. Watch in the early hours before dawn, when the rates are highest. Meteors can occasionally be seen before midnight, but are marked by lower rates and slow, stately trains across the sky. Some suggest that best viewing is at a 45 degree angle away from the radiant, but we maintain that meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. Pair up with a friend or two and watch in opposite directions to increase your meteor-spotting chances.

We also like to keep a set of binoculars handy to examine those smoke trains left by bright fireballs that may persist seconds after streaking across the sky.

And speaking of which, there has also been some spirited discussion over the past week as to whether or not the Perseids produce more fireballs than any other shower. I certainly remember seeing several memorable fireballs from this shower over the years, although the Geminids, Leonids and Taurids can be just spectacular on active years. The stated r value of the Perseids is one of the lowest at 2.2, suggesting a statistically high percentage of fireballs.

And in the realm of the strange and the curious, here are just a few phenomena to watch/listen for on your Perseid vigil;

–      Can you “hear” meteors? Science says that sounds shouldn’t carry through the tenuous atmosphere above 50 kilometres up, and yet reports of audible meteors as a hiss or crackle persist. Is this an eye-brain illusion? Researchers in 1988 actually studied this phenomenon, which is also sometimes reported during displays of aurora. If there’s anything to it, the culprit may be the localized generation of localized electrophonic noises generated by Extra/Very Low Frequency electromagnetic radiation.

–      Can meteor streaks appear colored? Green is often the top reported hue.

–      Can meteors appear to “corkscrew” during their trajectory, or is this an illusion?

A Perseid very near the shower radiant during the 2012 shower. (Photo by author).
A Perseid very near the shower radiant during the 2012 shower. (Photo by author).

Wide-field photography is definitely a viable option during meteor showers. Just remember to bring extra charged batteries, as long exposure times will drain modern DSLRs in a hurry!

And did you know: you can even “listen” to meteor pings on an FM radio or portable TV? This is a great “rain check” option!

And there’s still real science to be done in the world of meteor shower studies. The International Meteor Organization welcomes counts from volunteers… and be sure to Tweet those Perseid sightings to #Meteorwatch.

Also be sure to check out the UK Meteor Observation Network, which has just launched their live site with streaming images of meteors as they are recorded.

Good luck, clear skies, and let the late 2013 meteor shower season begin!

-And be sure to post those Perseid pics to the Flickr forum on Universe Today… we’ll be doing photo essay roundups from observers around the world!