At one time in history, humankind would have chalked it up to evil omens in the sky.
Over the next three days, the spectacular Perseid meteor shower commences its annual ritual of burning up debris from Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle in the sky, allowing late-night viewers the pleasure of seeing several hundred bright white meteors nightly.
This year the shower is peaking tonight, Thursday and Friday, with the middle night the most active, says Victor De Los Santos, executive director of the South Texas Astronomical Society.
“They’re going to be visible kind of all night long after nightfall comes, but the best times to watch, unfortunately, are a little bit later, starting about midnight to about 5 a.m. is when it’s going to peak those nights,” De Los Santos said Tuesday.
The direction to look is to the northwest.
“They’re called the Perseids based off of the constellation that these meteor showers appear to come from, which is the constellation of Perseus in the northwestern part of the sky,” he said. “If you’re thinking of where the best place to look from is, it’s farther north, away from light pollution.”
“For example, I’m in Brownsville, so if I were to go to southern Brownsville then looking north I’d be looking toward the light pollution so it’s not so great, and I’d want to go to northern Brownsville,” De Los Santos said. “If you’re in Harlingen, then northern Harlingen, sort of wherever is away from looking through the light pollution.”
One of the great things about the Perseids (pronounced PER-see-ids) is, unlike a lot of astronomy, one doesn’t need any special optics.
“You don’t need any special equipment like telescopes or anything,” De Los Santos said. “It would actually be a little bit difficult. If you want to do astrophotography, though, what a lot of people like to do is take long exposure photos so that way when the meteor does come, you’ll see a little streak and the only way to get that is from long-exposure photos.”
De Los Santos does concede meteor-watchers might consider bringing some mosquito repellent.
“Definitely mosquito spray,” he said.
One of the interesting tidbits about the Perseids meteor shower is that it occurs as the Earth moves through the remnants of Swift-Tuttle during our annual orbit of the sun. That debris then burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere, dazzling us with a light show.
“It’s not so much things coming at us, but the Earth moving through a debris field,” De Los Santos said.