It’s that time of year again, when the annual Perseid meteor shower lights up the skies. This year’s display promises a good blaze, weather permitting, as there’s no interfering moonlight.
The meteor shower occurs as the Earth passes through debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle and meteoroids burn up in our atmosphere. It gets its name because the radiant, the point in the sky the ‘shooting stars’ seem to come from, is in the constellation of Perseus. Look for this near the familiar W of Cassiopeia.
People have observed meteors for thousands of years, but their origins were unclear. When this print of the great meteor of 1783 was made, there was still debate over whether meteors originated in the Earth’s atmosphere (‘meteor’ comes from the Greek for ‘in the sky’) or from space.
By the time of the spectacular 1833 appearance of the Leonids, another annual shower, it was becoming apparent that the celestial streaks had an astronomical origin. Some decades later, Giovanni Schiaparelli linked the Perseids to Comet Swift-Tuttle.