Ice, dust, rock, and iron debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which made its last trip around the sun in 1992, is expected burn up from the friction of Earth’s atmosphere this weekend, producing the active meteor shower known as Perseids, so named because the “meteors” seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus.
The shower officially peaks at about noon Universal Time on Sunday, which puts it at about 7 a.m. in Chicago, 8 a.m. in Baltimore, and too far into the daylight hours. The zenithal hourly rate is about 90 or 100 per hour, but that’s very much a theoretical maximum. No one will actually see that many.
However, even though the sun will be out at the technical peak of the meteor shower, viewers are expected to be able to see a good show on Saturday night. The moon rises just after midnight, and conditions are expected to be quite good before then. Look toward Perseus, which will be in the northwest sky around 9 p.m. Saturday. It’s right next to the constellation Cassiopeia, which makes a big “W” in the night sky.
For an added bonus, you might catch a glimpse of the International Space Station, expected to cross over in the north-northwest sky about 9:20 p.m., Central Time, Saturday and a little after 10 p.m. Sunday night.
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Local Swift-Tuttle History
This year marks the sesquicentennial of the comet’s discovery. Two men, hundreds of miles apart, are jointly credited with the discovery. Lewis Swift saw the comet’s apparition on July 16, 1862 from his site in Marathon, N.Y., during the early part of the Civil War. Marathon has a sparse population even today and is still an ideal place to observe astronomical objects and phenomena. It’s about 25 miles north of Binghamton, N.Y.
On July 19, 1862, just a few days later, Horace P Tuttle saw the comet from an observatory at Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass. Tuttle went on in his career to join the Union Army and then the US Naval Observatory, dying in 1923, to be buried in an unmarked grave in Falls Church, Va.