This week’s Perseids meteor shower is slated to be the best of 2016 for viewers in the northern hemisphere. During the event, astronomers predicted that about 50 to 60 meteors would be visible every hour.
The Perseids are an annual occurrence, visible to the naked eye every August, when Earth travels through the debris of an ancient comet called Swift-Tuttle. The debris disintegrates in our atmosphere, creating beautiful shooting stars. The reason they are called Perseids is because, from our perspective, they seem to emanate from the constellation Perseus.
This year, forecasters also predicted a Perseid outburst, a meteor shower with more meteors than usual. Most years, Earth grazes the edge of the debris stream, but this year, Jupiter’s gravity dragged the stream closer to us, meaning the Earth passed through closer to the center.
“The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago,” said Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office. “And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.”