COLUMBUS (WCMH) — If conditions clear up Wednesday night over Ohio, you could catch a few meteors streaking through the sky.
The best view of the Perseids, which can be widely seen around the world wherever skies are mainly clear, will be in a rural or semi-dark setting. City light pollution washes out all but the brightest meteors, although clouds are normally the greatest obstacle to catching a glimpse of the famed celestial event.
If patchy clouds leftover from scattered showers and storms break-in time, we could see some meteors over central Ohio skies, after the crescent moon sets two hours before midnight. Tonight’s view is expected to be suboptimal due to the humidity and haze, peaking between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. (Aug. 12).
Under ideal conditions, upwards of 50 to 75 “shooting stars” per hour can be seen streaking overhead in rural areas, where skies are darkest, moving at 36 miles per second (133,000 mph).
The Perseid meteor shower occurs when Earth passes through a field of debris (pebbles, grains, dust) shed by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which journeys through the solar system every 134 years in close proximity to Earth’s orbit. The elusive comet last swung past the sun on its closest pass in 1992.
The thin streaks of light are caused by bits of cometary debris embedded in the ice that melted and hitting the top of Earth’s atmosphere (about 80 miles high), burning up after encountering friction around 60 miles up.
The meteor shower particle stream will appear to come from the east, emanating from the northern constellation Perseus, which is the “radiant” point. However, meteors will appear in all parts of the sky. If you are in a favorable area for viewing, just look up. Be sure to give your eyes up to a half-hour to adjust to the night sky.
Although the period when Earth moves through the leftover debris occurs between July 24 and August 17, the greatest number of meteors are visible a few days surrounding the night of Aug. 11-12.
Don Stevens, Director of Perkins Observatory at Ohio Wesleyan University, explained: “Most meteors are the size of grains of sand or small pebbles. They are moving very fast though, tens of thousands of miles per hour, when they hit the atmosphere! That creates a lot of friction with the air, heating and ionizing it. That is what makes all that light and burns most of them up before they hit the ground. Only the largest meteors make it to the ground. We call those that hit the ground meteorites,” Stevens said.