The Perseids Meteor Shower is one of the most popular annual cosmic events that takes place in the northern hemisphere. This article explains what shooting stars are, charts the history of the Perseids and shows why they are the most accessible meteor display in the world.
Every summer the sky lights up in a fantastic natural display of shooting stars. The Perseids meteor shower starts in late July and lasts for over a month, reaching its peak in mid August, when it’s possible to see more than one meteor per minute. The shower can be seen all across the sky in the Northern Hemisphere, but it originally emanates from the constellation of Perseus and that’s where it gets its name. Although there are plenty of other
spectacular meteor showers throughout the year, the Perseids are the most popular for Americans and Europeans because they occur during the mild summer months, thus providing the best viewing conditions.
What are meteors?
Meteors are the result of small dust sized particles called meteoroids, which hurtle through space at speeds of up to 72 kilometers per second. These particles create brilliant streaks across the sky as they are heated to incandescence upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The Perseids meteor shower is associated with the tail of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which leaves ‘space debris’ in the Earth’s path at the same time each year. It’s important not to confuse meteors with meteorites the latter is a fragment of rock or metal that has struck the surface of the planet, often leaving a crater.
The Perseids throughout history
The Perseids have a history spanning around 2000 years, despite the Swift-Tuttle Comet only being discovered in 1862. The earliest record of this meteor activity comes from China in 36 AD, when astronomers noted that “more than 100 meteors flew thither in the morning.” Pagans connected the shower to the Roman god lnuo-Priapus, who was believed to have fertilized the fields by ejaculating on them once a year on the date the shower peaks. Catholics often refer to them as “the tears of St. Lawrence” since 10th August 258 is the day that saint was martyred. As for the constellation, in Greek legend, Perseus is the son of the god Zeus and the mortal Danae. It was claimed that the Perseid shower commemorates the time when Zeus visited Danae in a shower of gold.
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