Just a short article here to remind you that you can still view the Perseids this year, if you have not already, and to advance a small hypothesis about Medusa and the Perseids. Last night was the peak, but if you had cloudy skies or were too close to city lights, you have another opportunity tonight. There still will be excellent viewing after the Moon sets.
It is an unusually good show this year, because this particular Perseid event is what is called an “outburst”, meaning that there are more meteors than usual. An outburst occurs when the gravity of Saturn and Jupiter pull the Perseids closer to Earth. Instead of 80 to 100 meteors per hour, this year, there are some 160 to 200 meteors per hour, so if you have never seen a “shooting star” and would like to, this is a good opportunity.
During another super Perseid shower a few years ago, I volunteered to run the telescopes at the visitor center on top of Mauna Kea during the Perseid peak. In the normal course of events, local people in Hawai`i never visit the summit, and appear to have almost no interest in astronomy, but someone publicized it with with articles and on the news that day, and so, an unheard of number of visitors, some 2,000 people, came. No one else who worked at the visitor center, also local people of course, actually bothered to show up, so I was alone with 3 telescopes and 2,000 visitors.
It worked out pretty well despite this. I simply changed the telescopes to point to one celestial object or another at intervals , making sure that the same object was not shown twice. People formed lines at the 3 telescopes and a good time was had by all because the sky was incredibly clear that night. Still, I was happy to be relieved at midnight, and I went down the mountain a couple miles, away from the crowds, to a more secluded area, near a large cinder cone, to view the height of the meteor shower.
It was spectacular… the Perseid’s hot pink heads and neon green tails zoomed by, and the largest ones spread across the whole sky at once, and seemed to be so close that one could almost touch them. There were even strange sounds, a sort of hissing, as they streaked by in a few cases. I have since found that I am not the only one to have heard them. In one case, these sounds were captured.
As an archaeoastronomer and archaeologist, I wonder if the ancients noticed these hissing sounds, and the snake-like shape of the meteors as well, and associated them with snakes, and if this might be part of the reason why Perseus, who often is thought of as carrying the head of Medusa, with its trailing hair of snakes, is associated with this region of space where the meteors hail from.
In essence, this is not so much a “meteor shower”, as it is so often described, but a time when the Earth passes through the remnants of a giant 6 mile wide ancient comet, called Swift-Tuttle. As comets approach the Sun, the heat melts some of the ice they are composed of, and the melted ice explodes away from the surface of the comet as jets of gas, taking some of the harder material, such as dust, with them, and forming an area of debris in the path of the comment in space.
The Earth is now crossing the path the comet takes as it orbits the Sun every 133 years, and that path is swathed with small particles which interact with the atmosphere of the Earth, and are ignited by it, creating long streaking luminous flashes of otherworldly light.
The glowing Perseid meteors travel at approximately 37 miles per second, leave unusually large, colorful trails, and often have fireballs. A fireball is a larger than usual explosion of light and color that lasts longer than an average meteor. These are the fireworks of Nature.
These particular meteors are called Perseids because they appear to originate from the region of the Perseus and Cassiopeia constellations in the northeast quadrant of the sky. They can be seen in darker skies from 10:30 until the early morning.. Better viewing begins from approximately midnight to 1 AM, with the best view of all generally shortly before morning. In order to see them, wait until the moon is not visible, find a place as far away from city lights as possible, and face a generally northeast direction. It could take about 20-30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark so that you can see properly. We shall still be travelling through this area of space until the 24th of August, so occasional meteors may be viewable until then, but the peak period lasts only until Saturday, the 13th of August!
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About the Author: Seana Fenner is the leader of Odinia International, an organization which seeks to restore and celebrate our native European religion. She is the writer and narrator of the Odinist video redes and blóts on the Odinistpodcast Channel on Youtube. She has spent many years doing research on the ancient world while doing graduate work at the University of Oxford, both at archaeological sites and research libraries and museums. Her degrees are in archaeology, history, English literature, and religion. In addition to writing about Odinism and archaeoastronomy, she is especially active in working on European civil rights issues and freedom of religion and speech. Most recently, she has worked for the NASA Infared Telecope, and as a lecturer, creating and teaching archaeoastronomy courses for the physics department at the University of Hawaii. She has also given history, natural history, and science lectures for the Harvard Museum of Natural History and private jet tour expeditions. For more about her research, and upcoming book, see her Author’s Guild page here. To submit an article to the Odinist Journal Foxfire, or to join our Odinist email newsletter, or Odinia International, please contact us at Odinia@outlook.com Our membership page is here.