Watch out for falling stars!

By Matthew Sylvester, Special to the Record

Even if the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower came and went earlier this week, the celestial stage is still set for a real show. Taking place each year as the Earth drifts into the path of the comet Swift-Tuttle, catching its debris and putting on a cosmic fireworks show, the metor shower should continue to offer a host of shooting stars until the last week of August.
At its peak, the Perseid shower treats spectators to a beautiful view of up to 20 stars an hour or more visible with just the naked eye. Habitual stargazers might remember last year’s peak being a bit of a flop, with a full moon making it pretty hard to pick out the much dimmer meteorites in the night sky.
When you see a shooting star, what you’re actually seeing is a hunk of rock captured by Earth’s gravity, according to BU professor and astrophysicist Dr Lorne Nelson. In a recent post on the Bishop’s University Blog, he shared that the long and bright streaks are made from light given off by the rock as it plunges into the earth’s atmosphere and is burnt up from friction.
Every August the Earth crosses the path of the comet Swift-Tuttle. In a 2018 interview with the Record, Sebastien Giguere, the Scientific Coordinator for the Mont-Megantic Astrolab explained that “every time the comet’s orbit makes it pass near to the sun, a little bit of it gets destroyed. The debris forms a type of river of comet dust that follows the trajectory of the comet.” When the earth passes through that river, bits of comet fall into the atmosphere and burn up; creating a meteor shower.
“We call this shower the Perseids because all of the stars seem to be coming from the Perseus constellation,” Giguere said. “It’s the same principle as when you drive in a snowstorm: it’s like all the snowflakes are coming at you, even if they’re falling from the sky. With the shooting stars, it’s pretty amazing because at the end of the night the Perseus constellation is right above us.”
If you want the best view, it’s suggested that you stay out as long as you can. More and more of the meteorites will be bright enough to see as the sky gets darker. Usually townshippers have the special privilege of taking advantage of the first international dark sky reserve in the world at Mont Megantic to get the absolute best view of the event, but the ongoing pandemic has forced the Astrolab to cancel their night time viewings this year.
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