Perseid Meteor Shower 2016

The image shows two perseid meteors captured simultaneously along with a high flying aircraft (short trail), some stars of the Pegasus and Andromeda constellations and some hot pixels due to the camera’s increasing age. The camera is a standard close-circuit, standard definition video camera, feeding sonotaCo software.

Many experts were predicting an increase in the number of meteors in this year’s Perseid shower. We were fortunate to have a clear night and my meteor camera certainly saw lots of Perseid meteors. On a typical clear night through most of the year, the camera will capture between 4 and 12 meteors. From darkness on 11 to first light on 12 August 2016 it caught more than 150! There were so many that there were several captures of two simultaneous meteors and even one with three!

This is the third Perseid shower that the camera has observed and by far the busiest here.

Hour (UT) Perseids Total Meteors
21 6 8
22 17 18
23 28 31
00 22 23
01 30 36
02 37 46
03 12 16

The first and last hours were affected by daylight

The camera will generally capture any meteors in its field of view with a magnitude brighter than 1.7 or so. It has an approximately 60 degree wide field facing just south of east, (towards the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France)

To see many more perseid (and other) meteors captured by video cameras visit the UK Meteor Network (of which the Horley camera is a proud member)

What are the Perseids?

From time to time the earth collides with dust, grit and pebbles. Even tiny objects move in orbits round the sun at very high speeds, so as they encounter our atmosphere, they become very hot from friction with the air and almost all of them vaporise completely. From the ground we see a “shooting star” or meteor: a fast moving spot of light that sometimes leaves a trail. Very rarely, an object of greater size (depending on what it is made of) can survive the heating and fall all the way through the atmosphere. This is a meteorite.

As a comet or asteroid orbits the sun, it can leave debris behind in the form of dust, grit and pebbles. They can escape the comet or asteroid because it has weak gravity due to its relatively small size. When the earth passes through the orbit, there will be more meteors, even if the comet or asteroid itself is far away. As the orbits of many comets and asteroids are stable, we can predict when an increase of meteors will occur, with many known showers occurring at the same time each year. As the objects are all moving in parallel, the will appear to radiate from a point on the sky (which we call the radiant) just like parallel train tracks appear to meet at a point in the distance. An annual increase in meteors of this kind is called a meteor shower and these are usually named after the constellation or a nearby star from which the meteors will appear to originate (though meteors can appear anywhere across the sky).

The Perseids occur in late July and early August each year and appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus. This meteor shower usually produces more meteors than any other each year. It is known to be caused when the earth crosses the orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle.

Predictions of how active the perseids will be are based on the position of the comet within its orbit (when the comet has recently passed, the orbit will be more dusty), and by mapping the density of particles in the orbit using previous observations.