Meteors Shine in the Atmosphere

Aug 12, 2013

You may have been spotting an unusual number of shooting stars in the night sky.   And you might already know they’re part of an annual meteor shower that’s been lighting up the Northwoods.  

The Perseid meteor shower is expected to peak Monday night.
Credit Brocken Inaglory

Astronomers predict the Perseid meteor shower should peak Monday night, with possibly hundreds of meteors passing through the night sky in just a few hours. 

Frank Kovac owns Kovac Planetarium and has been stargazing for 25 years.  He explains that what we see as shooting stars are actually bits of dust…in this case coming from a large comet called Swift Tuttle. 

“As our planet orbits the sun, and we pick up that fine dime sized, maybe nickel or quarter-sized comet debris, it sweeps through our atmosphere at about 20-30 miles per second.  Which is so fast that it burns up and we see what we call shooting stars, or meteors.”

Kovac says this year could be especially good for seeing Perseids meteors, because the moon isn’t at its brightest.

“Our moon is behind its first quarter phase, and we don’t have that glare in the sky.  So if you can get away from a yard light, town lights, and just go out and look up, you are almost guaranteed to see quite a few.  It’s the best one of the year so I say take advantage of it.”

You don’t need binoculars or a telescope, but Kovac recommends stargazers try a reclining lawn chair for best viewing.  The meteor shower is expected to drop off within a few days of its peak.