Whenever we experience a meteor shower, and especially one that's purported to be the greatest cosmic event of our lifetime, I get nervous. You see, I think about the old 1962 film based on the book by John Wyndham, "The Day of the Triffids." In the story, everybody on the planet goes out to watch this once in a lifetime meteor shower, cunningly engineered by alien plant spores called Triffids. The meteor shower causes wide-spread blindness, making the Earth's population easy prey for slow moving, carnivorous plants. And you think ivy is a problem. Now, we both know that alien plant life is not planning to invade us by way of a meteor shower. Still, every time I watch one, part of me listens for that weird, low-pitched clicking sound the Triffids made. My husband, merry prankster that he is, does a pretty good imitation.
Back to reality. Why is it called the Perseid Meteor Showers? The radiant, or origin of the shower comes from the constellation named for, Perseus, the ancient Greek hero who battled Medusa. You can locate Perseus in the northeastern sky and its most well-known star is called, Algol. The name, Algol comes from Arabic (the ancient study of astronomy began in the Middle East) and roughly translates as, demon's eye. The star actually represents Medusa's eye. (Great. Now we have carnivorous plants and Gorgons. ) Algol is actually 105 lightyears away from us. Think about the time and distance these meteors have traveled just to put on a show for us.
The Perseid display began around July 23rd this year and the meteors, refuse from the Swift-Tuttle comet, fell at a rate of 10 meteors per hour. As we moved deeper into the stream of meteors, the rate has increased and is predicted to peak at between eighty to a hundred meteors per hour this Saturday morning at 2 a.m. As amazing as it sounds, meteors fall at a rate of thirty-seven miles per second.
The meteor display will be easier to see this year because the moon is waning and will be in its crescent phase. In case you're wondering what those two bright objects are in the pre-dawn sky, they are Jupiter and Venus. You don't need eye protection, or smoked glass to watch the meteor shower. Just try to get away from city lights if possible. All that's required is a pillow for your head as you lie back in the grass.
Below is a table of the annual meteor showers. As you can see, we still have some great cosmic fireworks remaining for this year. Enjoy! Oh, and keep an eye on the plant life. :)
Name Month to View