The Perseid Meteor Shower: Some further reading.

Have you ever wondered why the Perseid meteor showers occur so regularly and predictably? Whether this is something to do with their orbit coinciding with the Earth’s annually? Whether they orbit the Sun on a year cycle? Whether they’re in the same plane as Earth’s orbit and the other planets? Whether any 3D diagrams exist? Whether the Perseids are decreasing in number each year? Whether they come from the constellation of Perseus? Whether the tracks of all the meteors are the same?

Well, funnily enough, you’re not alone! My Uncle Andrew wondered all of these things at once, and contacted drainbamms.wordpress.com seeking further clarification.

I shall now attempt to answer all of his questions.

The particles associated with the annual Perseid meteor shower come from a comet called Swift Tuttle, which was discovered independently by Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle on July 16th and July 19th 1862 respectively.

Yes, the comet does orbit the sun, but each orbit takes around 133 years, 11 times the length of Jupiter’s orbit. Swift Tuttle does not orbit on the same plane as the planets, but cuts across Earth’s orbit at an angle.


The Perseids aren’t decreasing in number each year, as Swift Tuttle is still orbiting the sun and leaving a trail of dust particles behind it. Most of the dust in the cloud at the moment is thought to be around 1000 years old, although there is a newer stream of particles which was pulled from the comet in 1865 (presumably as it passed the sun? I can’t find clarification on this).

The meteor shower associated with Swift Tuttle is called the Perseid shower because to an observer in the northern hemisphere the meteors appear to radiate from a point in the sky closest to the constellation of Perseus. However, having observed the shower each year for a few years, I find the diagrams too simplistic, and in reality you’ll see the meteors all over the sky and won’t really be able to tell where they’re radiating from.


And finally, an amazing fact of the day: The dust particles entering the atmosphere during this meteor shower are hurtling along at 58km/s.



The International Space Station is back over the UK this month, and I popped outside last night to take a few snaps of the pass as 23:02.

My neighbours were out in their garden at the time, and I heard them wondering what it was when they spotted it coming over, so I surprised them with my slightly geeky level of knowledge about the ISS.

I also let them know about the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, which is treating the northern hemisphere to an amazing firework display over the next few days, peaking on Monday 12th August.

I plan to take a drive out into the middle of the Lincolnshire Wolds, which should give me a nice dark sky, and watch a couple of ISS passes and around 100 meteors per hour. It should be a pretty spectacular evening’s star-gazing!

Get yourself outside on a clear night this week and look up – you’ll be amazed! It’s incredible to look up at the ISS in the knowledge that it’s moving at around 17,000 miles per hour 200 miles above the earth, and spotting so many meteors is pretty damn exciting!

Amazing fact of the day:

The meteors entering the atmosphere during the Perseid Meteor Shower are tiny- about the size of a grain of sand! That’s pretty incredible when you see how much light they produce and the speed they’re going as they burn up.

Here’s a link to a website listing all the ISS passes this month, as well as the dates you can see the Perseid meteors


And here’s a nice article about the Perseids, by a guy I follow on Twitter. He posts some really interesting things, and provides reminders to help make sure you don’t miss the ISS passing overhead! Check him out @VirtualAstro








I’ve had much fun over the last couple of nights embracing my inner nerd, by taking my SLR and tripod out into the garden and attempting to take some long exposures of the International Space Station hurtling over us, some 370km up, at a speed of 7.71km/s. I find it absolutely awe inspiring to stare up at it and think that way up there in that space station are people. People working. People brushing their teeth. People staring back down at the planet with an equal sense of awe.

The UK is being treated to a whole month of very bright passes by the ISS throughout June, so I’m going to go out with the camera a few more times and find some more interesting locations to shoot some pictures from. You can find a full list of the passes here;


It even tells you which way to face. And don’t worry if you miss it… The space station isn’t exactly dawdling its way round the planet, and if you miss one, it’ll be back round about an hour and a half later.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was up on the ISS earlier this year, and took some stunning photos of Earth. They’re well worth a look, and they’re all on Twitter.