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The Discovery of the Perseid Meteor Shower

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perseid meteor shower

If you are an astronomer by trade or by interest, then you probably already know that one of three annual meteor showers have recently made its appearance.

From April 16th through April 26, the Lyrids meteor shower lit up the night sky; especially on April 22 when it was at its peak.

However, if you were unaware that this annual event takes place every year wish you could have seen it, don’t worry. There is another annual meteor shower, more prolific than Lyrids, on its way. This meteor shower is known as The Perseids.

The name is Greek, meaning son of Perseus. The shower got its name because it originates from the constellation Perseus. The Perseids have been seen in the night sky for nearly 2000 years, but was re-discovered by Edward Herrick, Adolphe Quetelet, and John Locke.

Interestingly enough, these men were not working together. They each independently discovered the shower and various tidbits of information concerning it at the same time.

Discovery of the Perseid Meteor Shower

In 1837, Herrick, a young bookstore clerk, sought evidence that this meteor shower could be witnessed elsewhere in the world throughout history. During the early 1800s, meteor showers were largely misunderstood, and many astronomers did not give their existence a second thought.

However, fascinated with the phenomenon, Herrick set out to conduct his own research. What he discovered was that this meteor shower was actually well-documented as far back as 1029 in Egypt.

Many scientists believed that meteors were meteorological, like lightening. Then, there were other scientists who surmised that meteors were actually debris falling back to Earth after a volcanic eruption.

Herrick rejected both of these ideas. He believed that meteors came from deep space, even though at the time he could not nail down their origin. In an article submitted to the American Journal of Science and Arts, Herrick wrote, “Shooting stars are without doubt cosmical or celestial bodies.”

He went on to state, “and not of atmospheric or terrestrial origin.”

Unfortunately for Herrick, a European statistician by the name of Adolphe Quetelet mentioned the shower several months prior to Herrick and five years prior. A man by the name of John Locke is said to have traced the Perseid meteor shower origins back the constellation Perseus. To this day these men share the title of re-discoverers.

perseid meteor shower

Ancient Sightings of Perseid Meteor Shower

The term rediscovers is used, because this meteor shower has been witnessed for thousands of years. The earliest known sightings of the showers date back to ancient China.

One Chinese annual states, “more than 100 meteors flew thither in the morning.” The Perseids were also mentioned in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean writings consistently during the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th centuries.

Today, the shower is a well-known event. It occurs from about mid-July through August 20 every year, and hits its peak between August 9 and 14. During the peak, you will be able to see about 60 or more meteors per hour. They are visible across the night sky, but visibility is much better in the northern hemisphere.

This is due to the fact that the shower is from a cloud of debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet as it passes by Earth on its 130-year orbit.

The Perseids is one of Earth’s most prolific meteor showers, whose discovery and rediscovery is an interesting story in itself. However, to truly experience what the Perseids are famous for, Astronomers recommend that viewers of the Perseid meteor shower watch it during the pre-dawn hours, when the shower is at its peak.

References & Image Credits:
(1) PR Log

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