Are you ready for nature’s fireworks?
The annual Perseids Meteor Shower is already underway so be sure to look up to enjoy nature’s very own fireworks.
Unfortunately this year the bright moon will hamper visibility of all but the brightest meteors. The best time to catch the shower in all its glory is in the short window between moonset and dawn early morning on the 13th of August. Moonset is at 04:09 so perfect for night-humans. Alarm clocks will otherwise be required!
If you’re so inclined tally up the number of meteors you observe, the length of time you were watching the skies and your location. Email us at email@example.com or on messenger at @gozospacelab.
What causes a meteor shower?
In this instance the Perseid Meteor Shower is caused by the debris trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle. As the comet orbits the sun and dissolves into the vastness of space it leaves a tail of debris made up of rock and ice. At this time each year Earth travels through the comet’s trail and these small particles enter our atmosphere. As they do, they heat up and ignite in the upper levels of our atmosphere regaling us with what looks like a shower of shooting stars in the night sky.
The radiant, or the point where the majority of the meteors appear to be originating from, falls near the constellation Perseus, hence the name, Perseids. The same holds for the Leonids, Taurids, Eta Aquarids and others at different times of the year.
Where to meteor-gaze
I remember the time (a long, long time ago, as the Once-ler would say) when together with my friends from the Astronomical Society we spent idyllic summer nights sprawled on blankets on the hillside between Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples in Malta philosophising, cracking jokes and recording meteors (ok, among other things). Where best to go nowadays? Dwejra on the island of Gozo springs to mind of course but any location away from the haze of urban light pollution would do. On the mainland, Dingli Cliffs, Fomm ir-Rih and Bahrija, Mtahleb, L-Ahrax (possibly) and others. Allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness, take a red torchlight and most definitely avoid looking at a bright phone screen.
How to observe
Now, don’t you expect to step outside, look up and hey presto there’s a shooting star, make a wish and let’s go back to whatever it is you were doing. Clear skies, darkness and a level of patience are required to enjoy the most intensive meteor shower of the year.
Meteor showers are observed with the naked eye. No telescope or binoculars. Lie on your back and look up at the night sky in the general direction of Perseus and Cassiopeia (but not only). Remember meteors are transient natural phenomena so just chill and be happy when you catch one shooting across the dark sky.
Happy Stargazing! J