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Perseids Meteor Shower

It takes only a few of minutes of looking at a dark and clear night sky for someone to experience what is called a “shooting star” or “falling star”. What has really happened is that a tiny bit of dust from outer space entered the Earth's atmosphere and was quickly vaporized. In other words, a Meteor has occurred.

Such particles, or meteoroids, can be seen by a single observer at rate of 1 to 5 per hour every night. These meteoroids form the sporadic background. However, some meteoroids travel around the Sun in streams. Meteoroids belonging to the same stream will have similar orbital and physical characteristics. A closer look at the orbit of showers and comets may indicate that such dust particles originate from comets or in some cases even asteroids. In exceptional cases when a particle is large enough to survive the atmospheric entry, part of it will reach the Earth's surface as a meteorite.

The reason why a small pea-sized object causes such a show in the night sky, is due to its high speed (up to 72 km/sec). Despite its tiny mass, such a fast moving particle has a high kinetic energy which is transformed into light when colliding with the Earth's atmospheric molecules.

It is known that a comet loses parts of its icy components through sublimation upon approaching the Sun. Dust particles embedded in cometary ices are driven by the gas to escape the weak gravity field of the comet and travel on a similar orbit around the Sun. Thus, meteor observations can reveal the nature of cometary matter and the dynamical and physical evolution processes that the meteoroids are subject to during their long journey to the Earth.

Every year the Earth crosses different meteoroid streams producing tens of meteors every hour, or a meteor shower. Shower meteors seem to originate to a visual observer from the same point in the sky, called the radiant. Meteor showers are named after the constellations in which their radiant is located in the sky (e.g. Leonids, Perseids).

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