The best display of shooting stars this year occurs around mid-August. This display is called the “Perseid meteor shower.”
In this article we’ll discuss what a meteor shower is, the mythology behind the “Perseids,” how to view the meteor shower, and when to view it.
Meteor Showers 101
- Shooting stars are meteors — small pieces of dust in space that quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. The dust particles for the Perseid meteor shower (or “the Perseids” for short) are leftover bits of a comet called “Swift-Tuttle” that flies near Earth every 133 years. As the Earth orbits the Sun, every year at about this time we pass through the dust left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle’s many visits to our neck of the galactic woods.
- It’s called the “Perseids” because the shooting stars in this meteor shower all appear to fly toward us from the constellation Perseus, which is near the Name A Star Live constellations Andromeda and Cassiopeia (more info below).
Perseus — the Hero and Lover of Andromeda
The mythical love story of Perseus and Andromeda has been around since at least the time Comet Swift-Tuttle started visiting Earth about two millennia ago. Perseus was a famous hero in classical mythology who rescued the beautiful princess Andromeda. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia (queen of Ethiopia), made the fateful mistake of boasting that her daughter was more beautiful than the daughters of Neptune, the god of the sea. As punishment, Neptune commanded the sea monster Cetus to attack Ethiopia. To appease Neptune and Cetus, the Ethiopians chained Andromeda to a rock near the seashore so as to make her a sacrifice to Cetus. The young, dashing Perseus, however, came to the rescue at the last minute, slaying Cetus and freeing Andromeda from her chains. Perseus and Andromeda then fell in love and were married!
This story is commemorated in the heavens above by the constellations Perseus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cetus and Cepheus (the husband of Cassiopeia) — all located near one another in space.
How to view the meteor shower
So consider going outside under the night sky with your significant other, and make some wishes upon every shooting star you see! No telescope or binoculars needed: Just bring along a lawn chair or long towel on which to lie down. You might want to bring along some food and drink and, depending on where you live in the world, either some mosquito repellant or warm clothing. Then, just look up. You should see more shooting stars than you normally would on any night of the year.
When to look for the Perseids
Under perfect conditions — a clear sky, far from city lights, and viewing after the Moon sets at about 1:00 am the morning of August 13 — you might see as many as 160 shooting stars per hour, which is twice the normal rate for the Perseids each year. But you can still see an above average number of shooting stars no matter what time of the night you look. And you should be able to see an above-average number of shooting stars from now through about August 24.
Clear skies to you!