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Last Friday was an exciting yearly astronomical occurrence, the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. If you were outside in a relatively dark area, you might have seen the parent comet and a streak of debris and smaller comets flying through the sky, but what are the Perseids anyway? Read on below for everything you need to know about the Perseid meteor shower and its peak, which happened on Friday.
What is a Perseid meteor shower?
A Perseid meteor shower is an annual event that takes place each summer. This is one of the largest meteor showers every year and is often considered to be the most exciting one.
The Perseids are named after the constellation Perseus, which they seem to be coming from. They form a large cloud of debris that follows the Swift-Tuttle comet, a large Halley-type comet measuring 16 miles in diameter.
When did the meteor shower take place?
Technically, this year’s Perseid meteor shower has already been active for roughly a month. Each year, the Perseids are active from mid-July to late August. The most exciting part of the event, however, is the peak. This is what happened last Friday.
Where was the meteor shower peak visible?
The Perseids are far from the Earth and move quickly across the sky, so they can be visible in many places across the globe. The meteor shower is always most visible in the Northern Hemisphere. This year’s Perseids weren’t quite as easily visible as last year’s, as a supermoon was competing for attention in the sky.
To have the best view of the Perseids or any other meteor shower, it’s best to find the darkest location you can. If you live in the city, it might be worth driving out into the country for an evening to get away from all the lights.
There are typically three to four supermoons each year, and one of this year’s just happened to fall during the Perseid peak. The supermoon last week was called the Full Sturgeon Supermoon and gets its name because the giant sturgeon, a fish found in northern lakes, is most often caught during mid-August.
Are the Perseids dangerous?
Although meteor showers are fun to watch, if their path is set to collide with the Earth, they can cause serious problems. Are the Perseids and the Smith-Tuttle comet a potential danger? With a nucleus of 16 miles across, Smith-Tuttle is twice the size of the Chicxulub impactor, the asteroid believed to have killed the dinosaurs, so it would certainly be very dangerous if it impacted the Earth.
Luckily though, mathematicians and astronomers have calculated the path of the comet with relative certainty and found that the likelihood of it colliding with the Earth is very low. Smith-Tuttle last entered our solar system in 1992 and isn’t expected to come back until 2126. The comet typically comes several million miles within the Earth’s orbit once every 133 years.