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On the nights of Aug. 11th through 13th, the best meteor shower of the year will fill pre-dawn skies with hundreds of shooting stars. And that's just for starters. The brightest planets in the solar system are lining up right in the middle of the display.
The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the nights around August 12th as Earth passes through a stream of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle.
"We expect to see meteor rates as high as a hundred per hour," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The Perseids always put on a good show."
Perseids can be seen any time after 10 to 11 pm. The best time to look, however, is during the dark hours immediately before dawn.
This year's display is extra-special because of the planets. Jupiter, Venus, and the crescent Moon are gathering together just as the Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak. The alignment occurs in the eastern sky before sunrise on the three mornings of highest meteor activity.
On August 11th, a 33% crescent Moon will glide by Jupiter, temporarily forming a bright pair directly above brilliant Venus. Red-giant star Aldebaran will be there, too, adding a splash of color to the gathering.
August 12th, the narrowing 24% crescent Moon will drop down between Jupiter and Venus. Together they make a bright 3-point line in the sky, frequently bisected by shooting stars.
On August 13th, with the shower just beginning to wane, the planets put on their best show yet: The 17% crescent moon will pass less than 3 degrees from Venus as Jupiter hovers overhead. Sky watchers say there's nothing prettier than a close encounter between the slender crescent Moon and Venus--nothing, that is, except for the crescent Moon, Venus and a flurry of Perseids.
Anyone who's ever seen a noctilucent cloud or “NLC” would agree: They look alien. The electric-blue ripples and pale tendrils of NLCs reaching across the night sky resemble something from another world.
Researchers say that's not far off. A key ingredient for the mysterious clouds comes from outer space.
"We've detected bits of 'meteor smoke' imbedded in noctilucent clouds," reports James Russell of Hampton University, principal investigator of NASA's AIM mission to study the phenomenon. "This discovery supports the theory that meteor dust is the nucleating agent around which NLCs form."
The inner solar system is littered with meteoroids of all shapes and sizes--from asteroid-sized chunks of rock to microscopic specks of dust. Every day Earth scoops up tons of the material, mostly the small stuff. When meteoroids hit our atmosphere and burn up, they leave behind a haze of tiny particles suspended 70 km to 100 km above Earth's surface.
It's no coincidence that NLCs form 83 km high, squarely inside the meteor smoke zone.
Specks of meteor smoke act as gathering points where water molecules can assemble themselves into ice crystals. The process is called "nucleation."
Nucleation happens all the time in the lower atmosphere. In ordinary clouds, airborne specks of dust and even living microbes can serve as nucleation sites. Tiny ice crystals, drops of water, and snowflakes grow around these particles, falling to Earth if and when they become heavy enough.
Nucleating agents are especially important in the ethereal realm of NLCs. The clouds form at the edge of space where the air pressure is little more than vacuum. The odds of two water molecules meeting is slim, and of sticking together slimmer still.
Meteor smoke helps beat the odds. .....
Meteor smoke explains much about NLCs, but a key mystery remains: Why are the clouds brightening and spreading?
Short possible answer: Methane in the atmosphere....
Originally posted by TechUnique
Wow great stuff! At the risk of sounding naive, will I be able to see this on the south east coast of England?
If it is clear on the early mornings of the 11th to 14th of August, one has a chance of seeing the meteors in the Perseid Meteor Shower - the year's most dependable shower. Happily, this year, the peak of the shower on the morning of the 13th is only 4 days before New Moon so it should not hinder our view. Look up towards the North-East from 11 pm onwards on the nights of August 11th, 12th and 13th and 14th. The peak of activity - when you might expect to see 20-30 meters an hour is predicted to be between 00:30 and 03:00 BST on the morning of the 13th. This is the best time to observe on the other nights too as Perseus is rising in the sky and the Earth is facing the meteor stream. Most meteors are seen when looking about 50 degrees away from the "radiant" (the point from which the meteors appear to radiate from) which lies between Perseus and Cassiopea. (See the star chart below) The Perseid meteors are particles, usually smaller than a grain of sand, released as the comet Swift-Tuttle passes the Sun.
The shower in quite long lived, so it is worth looking out any night from the 10th to the 15th of August. Good hunting!