Every August, the Perseid meteor shower rains shooting stars on the nights skies of the Northern Hemisphere. This year, the shower is expected to last a bit longer and be brighter than usual.
Normally, the Perseids peak over the course of a single night, but astronomers believe this year will be different.
Analysis by Russian astronomer Mikhail Maslov and Finnish astronomer Esko Lyytinencometary suggests a portion of the material tailing the comet Swift-Tuttle was recently shifted toward Earth by Jupiter’s gravitational field.
Researchers predict the phenomenon will cause an uptick in meteor activity overnight on Thursday evening and Friday morning. The surge in activity is expected in addition to the Perseids climax on Friday night and Saturday morning.
Meteor showers don’t actually rain, of course, and shooting stars don’t shoot so much as get run over by the Earth’s atmosphere. Meteor showers happen when Earth and its atmosphere collided with debris scattered along the orbital paths of comets. The bright streak sky-watchers see is the piece of debris burning up as it’s swallowed by the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Earth’s atmosphere has been colliding with Swift-Tuttle debris since late July, but the densest part of the trail of the debris lies farther ahead in Earth’s orbital path.
If the predictions by Maslov and Lyytinencometary hold, onlookers could witness as many as 100 meteors per hour. The best time to see the Perseids is in the first hours of the new day, a few hours before dawn.
“The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year, and the predictions of a surge in activity this year make it particularly exciting this time,” Mark Bailey, a professor with the Royal Astronomical Society and director of Armagh Observatory, said in a news release. “If you’re lucky enough to have a clear sky early in the morning on 12 August, I’d definitely get up to take a look.”