Will There Be “No Night” on 12 August? Here’s The Truth
There will be a meteor shower which will be the brightest ever, but the news of there being no night is false.
The August night sky promises to be a busy month for stargazers with a string of visually spectacular celestial events expected to occur over the coming days.
The main draw continues to be the total solar eclipse expected to take place on 21 August, but this month also offered the chance to view a partial lunar eclipse on 7 August and the Perseid meteor shower on 12 August.
In India, rather than discussing the total solar eclipse or the lunar eclipse, a section of the Internet has blown the Perseid meteor shower out of proportion by spreading misinformation that we will not have a night on 12 August.
A claim that is blatantly false.
The image below is from a Hindi news article clipping that has gone viral on WhatsApp over the past few days. The original article might have debunked the claim, but only the first half of the story has been shared on WhatsApp causing more confusion.
A 26 July article from Astronomy Physics.com might be responsible for the confusion over the internet.
What Is a Meteor Shower?
To understand the Perseid meteor shower we need to first explain what a meteor shower is.
A meteor or a meteoroid is a space rock that enters the earth’s atmosphere. When the meteor approaches the earth, it produces a resistance of air or drag on the rock which makes it extremely hot. What we see as a “shooting star” is not the descending rock but the hot air that is released as the rock zips through the atmosphere. When the earth encounters many meteoroids at once it is known as a meteor shower.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation where the meteors appear to come from. For example, Orionids – which can be spotted during October – appear to be originating from the constellation Orion. Quadrantids, Lyrids, Leonids and Geminids are the other meteor showers that take place.
What Is a Perseid Meteor Shower?
The Perseid meteor shower occurs when the earth passes through the trail of dust and debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle every August. This comet orbits the sun every 133 years. Every Perseid meteor is a tiny piece of the comet Swift-Tuttle. When the earth intercepts the path of the comet’s debris, meteoroids hit earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate in flashes of light. Perseids are called so because it’s radiant or the point from which it appears to come from lies in the constellation Perseus.
Though Perseids will indeed peak on 12 August, they have been active since 17 July and will be visible till 24 August this year.
(2016 video by The Verge)
Will There Be No Night on 12 August This Year?
No, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA, which usually does not pay attention to internet crazies, has taken note of the junk news surrounding the Perseid meteor shower this year.
In a blog post dated 3 August, ‘The Greatest Meteor Show of All Time‘, Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center, has put to rest the misinformation surrounding Perseids, including claims that it will be the brightest meteor shower recorded in human history.
“…Reports are circulating that this year’s Perseids will be the “brightest shower in recorded human history,” lighting up the night sky and even having some meteors visible during the day. We wish this were true… but no such thing is going to happen.”
Explaining why Perseids could not be the brightest meteor shower ever recorded, Cooke said Perseids never reach storm levels of thousands of meteors per hour. Their normal rate is between 80-100 meteors per hour and at best there could be an “outburst” of a few hundred per hour.
“This year, we are expecting enhanced rates of about 150 per hour or so, but the increased number will be cancelled out by the bright Moon, the light of which will wash out the fainter Perseids. A meteor every couple of minutes is good and certainly worth going outside to look, but it is hardly the “brightest shower in human history.” The Leonid meteor storms of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s were much more spectacular, and had rates 10 times greater than the best Perseid display,” said Cooke.
According to an article in Space.com, this year because of a bright and waning moon, visibility will be closer to 40 or 50 meteors per hour. Nevertheless, it will still be a vivid display for stargazers.
The best way to see the Perseids is to go outside between midnight and dawn. Give yourself 45 minutes to help your eyes adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up. The naked eye is a better option over a telescope or a pair of binoculars because you will be able to see much more of the sky.
(This article was first published on BOOM and has been republished with permission.)
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