Environment

Meteor shower lights up Wednesday night

Stars seen as streaks from a long camera exposure are seen behind Arnotegui Hermitage, in Obanos, northern Spain, Tuesday. Some Catholics refer to the Perseids as the "tears of Saint Lawrence", since 10 August is the date of that saint's martyrdom.
Stars seen as streaks from a long camera exposure are seen behind Arnotegui Hermitage, in Obanos, northern Spain, Tuesday. Some Catholics refer to the Perseids as the "tears of Saint Lawrence", since 10 August is the date of that saint's martyrdom. AP

Kick back and enjoy the show with nothing but a reclining chair and blanket as the Perseid meteor shower graces the sky on Wednesday night.

According to NASA, if you only witness one meteor show in 2015, make it the Perseids. This light show was deemed the “fireball champion” by the organization in 2013 due to the large number of fireballs, or meteors that shine as bright as Jupiter and Venus.

To enhance viewing of the spectacular celestial event, the sky should be nearly moonless this year as the sliver of waning moon sets before the sun does.

No telescope or any fancy equipment will be required to experience the show. “The best place (for viewing) will be wherever you can go where it is dark,” said Christopher Taylor, professor of physics and astronomy at California State University, Sacramento.

The best time to view the show will be Wednesday evening into the early twilight hours of Thursday morning, according to the Royal Astronomical Society. A smaller version of the main meteor event may be viewable on Tuesday and Thursday nights as well. At its peak, the show could produce 100 meteors per hour.

Meteors, or “shooting stars,” are tiny pieces of debris – sizes range from a grain of sand to a pea – that cross into the top of earth’s atmosphere. The Perseid meteors, traveling 37 miles per second, will superheat the surrounding air to create white streaks of light. Early, faint meteors will be quick dashes of light across the sky, but meteors that make an appearance during prime viewing time will last several seconds and leave an aftermath of glowing smoke.

The Perseids are debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet, which makes a complete orbit around the sun once every 133 years. The last time the comet passed by Earth was 1992, but every year, Earth’s orbit moves through a trail of its debris. “It can be difficult to tell if you will encounter a glob of debris or just a few specks,” Taylor said. “People should keep in mind that it is always hard to tell, so you have to go out and watch.”

Katie L. Strong: 916-321-1101, @katielstrong

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