Cologne – Midsummer is shooting stars: As it does every year around August 12th, the legendary Persid Swarm promises countless shooting stars these days, which can be seen without any visual aids. The peak of the meteor showers is expected in the second half of the week – but of course the weather should continue along the way and allow the night sky to be seen. “Under optimal conditions, you can see a meteor fly across the sky every minute or two,” according to the Friends of the Stars Society (VdS).
Night sleep and early wake up
When the skies are clear, many of these summer meteors can be seen in the night sky even before the high on Bershade late Thursday evening. Night owls or early risers should be able to catch a glimpse of one of the summer stars or the other when there are gaps in the clouds. According to ancient custom, some observers would then feel their call to give the falling star, which burns in seconds, a secret wish on its way.
August meteors have long had a fixed date in the astronomical annual calendar for lovers of falling stars: Perseids are the only large meteor showers of summer and one of the most productive of all. At the time of maximum Perseid from the middle of the week, dozens of fallen stars per hour can perfectly illuminate the sky.
This time there is no annoying moonlight
“Conditions are especially favorable this year, because the moon sets late in the evening,” says VdS. So the night sky is not lit by moonlight, so you will see more meteors. Professionals estimate as many as a hundred falling stars under a very dark sky, and a single observer notices about 30 to 50 meteors per hour, according to estimates by the Astronomy Society. Therefore, the best time to observe during the maximum parachute is on the nights from Wednesday to Thursday and from Thursday to Friday.
According to VdS, most meteors can be seen after midnight – heading east, around this time the constellation Perseus rises. Summer stars also get their name from this constellation: the apparent starting point of the Perseid meteorites, or so-called radioactive meteorites, lies in Perseus.
Smell the dust of the comet
However, in truth, the falling stars do not come from distant fixed stars, but from the immediate vicinity of the Earth: in its orbit around the Sun, our planet crosses a cloud of fine particles every year between mid-July and the end of August, which left Comet 109P / Swift-Tuttle in its orbit around the central star.
When Earth hits the comet’s cosmic dust path, which repeats every 133 years, comet dust particles, often the size of a pinhead, penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 60 kilometers per second – an incredible speed of 216,000 kilometers per hour. At an altitude of 80 to one hundred kilometers, small dust particles then create a light phenomenon called a shooting star.
Like in severe snowstorms
An observer navigating through space with Earth is presented with an image of a swarm of meteors like a motorist driving in shovels of thick snow: looking through the windshield, it appears as if all the snowflakes come from a common starting point. In truth, only perspective plays a trick—just as with the Perseids, whose traces of light can extend into the constellation of Perseus from the viewpoint of the Earth observer.
Larger meteors shine like bright stars and planets when they enter the atmosphere. The so-called fireballs are brighter, but they are also rare. These amazing meteors often leave a colorful glowing tail behind.
A good overall vision is important
Sky-gazers organizers do not need special equipment to monitor the Perseids – a deck chair or sleeping mat and good panoramic view is enough. Binoculars or even telescopes are a hindrance when tracking meteors that burn in seconds, because the field of view of such instruments is too small for agile sky cruisers.
The best observation possibilities are offered by a place away from cities flooded with artificial light. If you want to photograph the meteor shower, you should use a wide angle lens, mount the camera on a tripod and choose a long exposure.