Let's Talk About: Colorful sky show

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The Perseid meteor shower comes every year, beginning in late July and stretching into August. Stargazers outdoors at the right time can see colorful fireballs, occasional outbursts and, almost always, long hours of gracefully streaking meteors.

Interplanetary space contains many chunks of matter ranging in size from a speck of dust to many miles across. In space, these chunks are called meteoroids. When this chunk of rock impacts on a planet or moon, it's called a meteorite. When we see a track of light in the sky from rock or dust burning up as it falls through Earth's atmosphere, it's called a meteor or "shooting star."

If you look at the sky long enough on any clear night, you can see a meteor. However, at certain times of the year, we are treated to a shower of "shooting stars." The showers result from a cloud of particles in orbit around the sun left over from a passing comet.

The Perseid meteor shower comes from Comet Swift-Tuttle. When Earth passes through this cloud of particles in its yearly trip around the sun, tiny bits of comet dust hit Earth's atmosphere traveling at a speed of 132,000 mph. At that speed, even a tiny dust particle will make a vivid streak of light, a meteor, when it disintegrates. Maximum activity with exceptional skies during the Perseids is normally about 50 or 60 meteors per hour.

Although the shower lasts several nights, one night always is the best for viewing. This year, peak activity will occur from about 10 p.m. Sunday through dawn Monday. The thin crescent moon sets early, so moonlight won't interfere during the prime pre-dawn hours of the shower.

The best way to view the Perseids is to lie down on your favorite lawn chair and look toward the northeast. Don't forget the bug spray and a warm coat.

science


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