There’s Going to Be an Outburst!

Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower at Its Peak Tonight

The last time we had an outburst, that is a meteor shower with more meteors than usual, was in 2009. This year’s Perseid meteor shower is predicted to be just as spectacular starting tonight!

Plan to stay up late tonight or set your alarm clock for the wee morning hours to see this cosmic display of “shooting stars” light up the night sky. Known for it’s fast and bright meteors, tonight’s annual Perseid meteor shower is anticipated to be one of the best meteor viewing opportunities this year.

For stargazers experiencing cloudy or light-polluted skies, a live broadcast of the Perseid meteor shower will be available via Ustream overnight tonight and tomorrow, beginning at 10 p.m. EDT.

“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of Aug. 11-12,” said Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Alabama. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”

Every Perseid meteor is a tiny piece of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 133 years. When Earth crosses paths with Swift-Tuttle’s debris, specks of comet-stuff hit Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate in flashes of light. These meteors are called Perseids because they seem to fly out of the constellation Perseus.

Most years, Earth might graze the edge of Swift-Tuttle’s debris stream, where there’s less activity. Occasionally, though, Jupiter’s gravity tugs the huge network of dust trails closer, and Earth plows through closer to the middle, where there’s more material.

This is predicted be one of those years!

Learn more about the Perseids!

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What are Perseid Meteors, and why should you be excited for them this year? Let us tell you!

The Perseid meteor shower is caused by debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle as it swings through the inner solar system and ejects a trail of dust and gravel along its orbit. When the Earth passes through the debris, specs of comet-stuff hit the atmosphere at 140,000 mph and disintegrate in flashes of light. Meteors from this comet are called Perseids because they seem to fly out of the constellation Perseus.

Last year, this meteor shower peaked during a bright “supermoon”, so visibility was reduced. Luckily, forecasters say the show could be especially awesome this year because the Moon is nearly new when the shower peaks on Aug. 12-13.

The best place to view the event is away from city lights around midnight. Under a clear, dark sky forecasters predict meteor rates as high as 100 per hour on peak night. So, get outside, look up and enjoy the show!

If your area has poor visibility on the peak night, we’ve got you covered! We’ll be hosting a live broadcast about the meteor shower from 10 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 12, to 2 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 13. In addition to footage from our live skycam, the program will highlight the science behind the Perseids, as well as our research related to meteors and comets. Tune in on NASA TV or our UStream Channel.

Top Shot: The Meteroic Way

Top Shot features the photo with the most votes from the previous day’s Daily Dozen. The Daily Dozen is 12 photos chosen by the Your Shot editors each day from thousands of recent uploads. Our community has the chance to vote for their favorite from the selection.

A lone tree stands under a night sky featuring the Perseids meteor shower. The shower is primarily visible in the Northern Hemisphere and it’s peak activity takes place in mid August. Photograph by Czakó Balázs

Five Fun Facts for the 2015 Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminid meteor shower peaks this weekend starting on Sunday, Dec. 13. Here are a few fun facts:

Fact #1:

The Geminid meteor shower can be seen from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Because they are pieces of an asteroid, Geminid meteoroids can penetrate deeper into Earth’s atmosphere than most other meteor showers, creating beautiful long arcs viewable for 1-2 seconds.

Fact #2:

Geminids are pieces of debris from an object called 3200 Phaethon. It was long thought to be an asteroid, but is now classified as an extinct comet.

Phaethon’s eccentric orbit around the sun brings it well inside the orbit of Mercury every 1.4 years. Traveling this close to the sun blasts Phaethon with solar heat that may boil jets of dust into the Geminid stream. Of all the debris streams Earth passes through each year, the Geminid shower is the most massive. When we add up the amount of dust in this stream, it outweighs other streams by factors of 5 to 500.

Fact #3:

Because they are usually bright, many people say Geminid meteors show color. In addition to glowing white, they have been described as appearing yellow, green, or blue.

Geminid meteoroids hit earth’s atmosphere traveling 78,000 mph or 35 km/s. That may sound fast, but it is actually somewhat slow compared to other meteor showers.

Fact #4:

Geminids are named because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation of Gemini. The shower lasts a couple of weeks, with meteors typically seen Dec. 4-17, peaking near Dec 13-14.

Fact #5:

The Geminids started out as a relatively weak meteor shower when first discovered in the early 19th century. Over time, it has grown into the strongest annual shower, with theoretical rates above 120 meteors per hour.

Join In:

This Sunday, Dec. 13, our Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will host a live tweet chat highlighting the 2015 Geminid meteor shower. This online, social event will occur 11 p.m. EST Dec. 13, until 3 a.m. EST on Dec. 14. To join the conversation and ask questions, use #askNASA or @NASA_Marshall.

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Just in case you missed it, here is a short time lapse of last night’s Perseid meteor shower. Captured August 11-12 (10pm-5am). #meteor #meteorshower #stargazing #stars #timelapse

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In cased you missed it, here area few of meteors from the Perseid Meteor Shower (2016) from last night. This is a stacked image. Two original elements are myself and the main meteor. The other meteors are real just from other shots and blended into one. Such a crazy experience. They were falling all around me all night. Totally worth the cactus that was imbedded into my leg #perseidmeteorshower #perseids #meteorshower #milkyway #astrophotography (at Casa Grande, Arizona)

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Solar System: Top 5 Things to Know This Week

Here are five things you need to know about our amazing solar system this week: 

1. Perpetual Pluto-palooza

The New Horizons spacecraft continues its ongoing download of data and images from the July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. In the latest weekly release, the new images don’t disappoint, showing fine details in an exotic landscape. The New Horizons team has also described a wide range of findings about the dwarf planet’s system in its first science paper. Learn more HERE.

2. Encounter at Enceladus

The Cassini spacecraft has returned the closest images ever showing the north polar region of Saturn’s intriguing ice moon Enceladus. Scientists expected the area to be heavily cratered, but the new high-resolution Cassini images also show a landscape of stark contrasts, crisscrossed by a spidery network of gossamer-thin cracks that slice through the craters. The robotic spacecraft buzzed by the moon during the first of what will be three close encounters this year – the last of the long mission. Next up: on Oct. 28 Cassini will deep dive right through Enceladus’ famous ice geyser plume! Learn more HERE.

3. We’re Giving You the Whole World, Every Day

We have worked with NOAA to launch a new website that shows the full, sunlit side of the Earth on a daily basis. The images come from our camera a million miles away aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). Each daily sequence of images shows the Earth as it rotates, revealing the entire planet over the course of a day. Take a look HERE.

4. Going Big at Jupiter

We have large, new maps of Jupiter, thanks to data from the Wide Field Camera 3 on our Hubble Space Telescope. The big images provide a detailed look at how the giant planet’s features change over time. In fact, the maps are just the first in a planned series of yearly portraits of the solar system’s four outer planets. The views come as we prepare for the Juno mission to arrive at Jupiter in little less than a year. 

5. Catch a Falling Star

Meteors aren’t really falling stars, just dust and rock from deep space meeting a fiery end in Earth’s atmosphere – but they’re a sight to behold if you can catch a glimpse. The Orionid meteors appear every year around this time, when Earth travels through an area of space littered with debris from Halley’s Comet. This year the peak will occur on the night of Wednesday, Oct. 21, into the morning of Thursday, Oct. 22. Find out how to watch HERE

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The Perseids is one of the most active meteor showers in the sky, and it acts as an annual challenge for photographers wishing to capture its majesty. The image above is entitled Snowy Range Perseids, and it was created in 2012 by astrophotography expert David Kingham. In this installment of How I Got the Shot, David shares the gear he took along on the shoot, the settings he used, and he provides crucial tips on how to carry out the post-production processing. (How I Got the Shot: David Kingham on Snowy Range Perseids via BH Insights)