August 11, 2017 8:25 pm

Perseid meteor shower: Toronto astronomy professor explains what to expect

Time-lapse video captures Perseid's peak.


The skies are expected to put on a show this weekend as the Perseid meteor shower hits its peak.

While light from a recently full moon is expected to drown out some of the fainter shooting stars this year, Paul Delaney, York University astronomy professor and director of the university’s astronomical observatory, says there will still be plenty of action to observe in the skies.

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That’s because the meteor shower is associated with a large numbers of bright meteors called bollides, Delaney told AM640 host Kelly Cutrara on Friday.

“They are really big chucks of rock that fly into the earth’s atmosphere and they are absolutely stunning in brightness,” Delaney said. “There will some those in tonight’s shower.”

LISTEN: Paul Delaney joins Kelly Cutrara on the John Oakley Show

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What is the Perseid meteor shower?

The Perseid meteor shower generally starts in mid-July and peaks before mid-August, as a result of the Earth passing through a trail of debris associated with a comet known as Swift-Tuttle.

“A meteor shower is basically when we have a stream of debris — generally speaking, rock and ice particles — streaming into the earth’s atmosphere, moving so fast that they become super-heated by the atmosphere and they begin to glow to incandescence, and we see them as shooting stars,” Delaney explained.

READ MORE: How you can watch the Perseid meteor shower

The particles travel through the atmosphere at 10s of kilometres per second, and Delaney said they could be as many as one shooting star per minute.

“It’s all these shooting stars racing across the sky, clearly visible to the naked eye,” he said.

READ MORE: Solar eclipse and meteor shower just two of many astronomical events to be seen in August

In his interview with Cutrara, Delaney provided some advice for how to maximize your chances of seeing shooting stars:

  • Go anytime after midnight — as late as 1, 2 and 3 a.m. on Saturday. (“You’ve got to wait for the Earth’s rotation to bring your local area into the meteor stream,” Delaney said.)
  • Head to as dark a location as you’re comfortable with. Light pollution in the Greater Toronto Area will make the shooting stars harder to see.
  • Choose an area that provides a clear view of the eastern horizon to the zenith, the highest point in the sky. The meteor shower gets its name because it appears in the general direction of the constellation Perseus, but the shooting stars will be pretty hard to miss if you have an eastern to slightly northeastern view, Delaney said.
  • Take a seat and get comfy: “A nice, reclining chair is a good plan.”

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