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Perseid Meteor Shower


Hello, this is Mary Stewart Adams with “The Storyteller’s Guide to the Night Sky.”

This year the month of August can rightly be described as a season of celestial superlatives:

We have a Super Moon this Sunday, August 10th, followed by the annual peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower overnight Tuesday, August 12th.

Then, our two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, make a rare and wonderful pairing in the morning sky on August 18th, followed by the evening pairing of the planets Mars and Saturn on August 25th.

That’s a lot to hold onto, so let’s just focus on one piece of this cosmic dance: The Perseid Meteor Shower. Though it will happen in the wake of Full Moon this year, the Perseid Meteor Shower promises the possibility of over 60 meteors per hour, and can be seen throughout the region anywhere in the sky.

The radiant, or seeming center point from which the shooting stars emanate, is in the region of the constellation Perseus~so when Perseus is highest overhead, the possibility of shooting stars increases. This is usually after midnight local time.

Astronomers tell us that meteor showers are caused by the Earth’s passage through the trail of stuff left by a comet when it passes through our planetary system. In the case of the Perseids, the parent comet is named Swift-Tuttle. And though the Perseid Meteor Shower has been recorded since at least the first century AD, this “parent comet” wasn’t discovered until the 1860s.

Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle discovered what is now known as Comet Swift-Tuttle independently of one another in July 1862.

As the largest Solar System object that makes repeated close passes of Earth, Comet Swift–Tuttle has been described as "the single most dangerous object known to humanity". Fortunately for us however, the constellation Perseus, which is also associated with this comet, has always been heralded as a hero of the human spirit, who was able to slay the stone-inducing fear of the Medusa and rescue Andromeda from her chains for an eternal “happily every after.”

I’m Mary Stewart Adams, from Emmet County’s International dark Sky Park at the Headlands.