Astrologers will tell you that Jupiter is the planet of dreams and expansion. Whether or not you read your horoscope every day, NASA has confirmed that Jupiter is upping its ante in one respect this year. That’s because the Perseid Meteor showers, which appear in the mid-August sky in the northern hemisphere, are going to be twice as visually spectacular. And it’s all thanks to the pull of Jupiter’s gravity.
The Perseid Meteor showers appear to be coming from the constellation Perseus, thus the name. However, those little shooting “stars” are actually debris left behind by the Comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet orbits the sun every 133 years and leaves behind a trail of visually spectacular debris. We get to see it as it hits the atmosphere around this time of year.
Since Jupiter’s gravity has pulled all that debris over, 2016 will go down as an extra-special year. That means we’re going to be in the middle of Comet Swift-Tuttle’s glorious trail. In fact, NASA has confirmed we might be able to sit back and watch as many as two or three of these large debris streams at once, instead of one. This doubled up show means you have the chance to catch a glimpse of up to 200 meteors per hour, in perfect conditions.
If all this talk of debris colliding with Earth’s atmosphere is starting to make you feel nervous, don’t worry. Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteroid Environment Office in Huntsville reminds stargazers that the comets you are watching light up the sky actually flew by hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago. They’re long gone and have left behind a gorgeous legacy.
You don’t need any special equipment to catch a glimpse of these doubly powerful Perseid Meteor showers. They will occur on the nights of August 11 and 12 starting around midnight and lasting until dawn. You just need clear skies, preferably without a ton of city lights close by. It’s also wise to give your eyes a half hour to adjust to the darkness.
NASA is also hosting a live stream of the showers for those cursed with clouds or light pollution. Here’s to Jupiter making things twice as cool this year.