You've probably heard people talking about the Perseid meteor shower, which is happening right now. It started July 17th and should end around August 24th and it's being described as 'spectacular' this year.
But, if you're not a space nerd, you might not know what it is. So we turned to Space.com for an explanation:
The Perseid meteor shower originates from a cloud of debris left in the inner solar system by the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, informally known as Comet Swift-Tuttle.
A 16-mile (26-kilometer) wide body of dust, ice, rock, and dark organic material, Comet Swift–Tuttle orbits the sun at a speed of 93,600 miles per hour. Despite traveling at speeds 60 times greater than the top speed of a jet fighter here on Earth, Comet Swift–Tuttle still takes a leisurely 133 Earth years to fully orbit the sun.
When the comet gets close to the sun, radiation from our star heats it causing solid ice to transform immediately into gas, a process called sublimation. As this gas escapes the comet, it blows away fragments of ice, dust, and rock. This is left around the sun as clouds of gritty debris, which flatten out, creating a stream of cometary material around the sun.
As Earth takes its own yearly trip around the sun, every summer between July and August it passes through this debris stream. As it does, fragments of ice and dust enter Earth's atmosphere at speeds as great as 130,000 miles per hour.
The debris causes the air in front of it to be compressed and heated to thousands of degrees. As a result, at an altitude of between around 44 miles (70 km) and 62 miles (100 km) over Earth larger fragments of rock and ice explode as bright fireballs. Smaller fragments of debris can pass further into Earth's atmosphere as they are being vaporized, with this more gradual destruction leaving longer streaks of light in their wake.
According to NASA, this year, if you're in a good spot, you may be able to see 50-100 meteors AN HOUR!
Pretty cool, right?
For Southern California, this weekend the Perseid meteor shower will peak starting around 10pm Saturday night and last until dawn on Sunday. If you live locally, the LA Times offered up a dozen places for you to get the best view, as long as the skies are clear.
- Indian Cove Campground, Joshua Tree National Park
- Mt. Disappointment, Angeles National Forest
- Castro Crest, Santa Monica Mountains
- Leo Carrillo State Park
- Rancho Palos Verdes Overlook
- Red Rock Canyon State Park
- Crystal Lake Recreation Area and Campground
- Mesquite Flat San Dunes, Death Valley National Park
- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
- Palomar Mountain
- Chula Vista Campground, Mt. Pinos