Not Just the Eclipse, August has an Awesome Meteor Shower on Tap
While the solar eclipse on August 21 is dominating the astronomical headlines this month, there is another exciting celestial event happening. The Perseids meteor shower will reach its annual peak in mid-August.
The Perseids meteor shower is great for observation because it can produce 50-100 meteors each hour that can be seen. You can see the shower any night between now and August 24. But, the peak days to see the streaks of light in the sky will be Saturday and Sunday August 12 and 13. Because of South Dakota's location in the Northern Hemisphere, the best time for the shower will be between 11:00 PM and 3:00 AM. NASA says that the waning gibbous moon that rises around midnight on the weekend of the 12th and 13th may mask some of the show, but the Perseids are so bright there'll still be plenty to see.
The best way to see the meteor shower will be to find a place away from as much city light as possible. Away from trees and other obstructions where you can see as much of the sky as possible. And of course hope for a cloudless sky.
The Perseids meteor shower is happens when the Earth moves through the tail of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle as the planet orbits the Sun. Swift-Tuttle is a large comet that takes 133 years to orbit the sun.As the comet travels in its orbit,it leaves a sort of wake of debris possibly made up of rock, ice and other particles of cometary material. When the Earth moves through the area of the debris some of it gets caught in it's gravity and burns up in the atmosphere as the particles are pulled in. The burning is what causes the streaks of light we see.
Part of what make the Perseids meteor shower special is that it is know to produce 'fireball.' Which are huge explosions of light and color that last longer than the typical meteor. That happens because Swift-Tuttle left behind some bigger particles of cometary material.
So we have the eclipse coming on the 21 and some great meteor shower action each night until then.