By Martin Leduc
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They can be red, blue or green. They spin at a speed approaching 58 km/second. It is the shooting star of the Perseids, a phenomenon that only happens once a year. This year it started on July 17 and is expected to last until August 24.
But the peak, the time when there will be the most, will fall the night of Friday 12 to Saturday 13 August. Here’s everything you need to know about this delightful show that promises to amaze us.
What are the Perseids?
“In fact, at the base there is the comet Swift Tuttle”, explains Gilles Dawidowicz, vice-president of the Astronomical Society of France and chairman of the Commission for Planetology.
“She passes in front of the Earth once every 133 years. The last time was in 1992. What interests us here is all the dust that is dislodged from it as it travels. This swarm is also called the torus”, explains the deputy chairman.
This dust, whose size fluctuates between that of a grain of sand and that of a grain of flour, passes close to us every year.
“As they enter our atmosphere at 58 km per second, they burn up and leave a trail behind them. Depending on their composition, the color can vary. »
How not to miss a shooting star?
Knowing that the trail left by shooting stars remains visible for a second at most, it is impossible to see them all.
The moon may be problematic, but it won’t be visible all night. If it ever gives off too much light, don’t hesitate to position yourself so it’s hidden behind a tree, for example.
On the other hand, it is possible to maximize the chances of being impressed by following these few tips:
- Place yourself as far away from light pollution.
- Give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness.
- Try not to stare too much at the full moon, the light source.
- Look to the northeast.
How many can we see?
It can go up to 200 shooting stars in one hourbut “it is very variable”, insists Gilles Dawidowicz.
On this topic, the Astronomical Society of France invites you to participate in scientific research by counting the number of shooting stars you will see. For this, she suggests a protocol of being well aware of what the Perseids are and then filling out an online form with your observations. For your notebooks!
Why is it so popular?
It is a famous phenomenon because the conditions in August are optimal for observing the sky. “It’s not cold, people are on vacation so they can see…”
And a small, not insignificant detail: “unlike certain space events, the Perseids do not require any instrument to see them”, clarifies the president of the planetology commission.
This is a meeting of people, everyone, to do light astronomy. A very good time to philosophize in front of the infinity of the universe.
Can we see them every year?
The answer to this question is a resounding yes: the Perseid cluster is made up of billions of dust particles.
“Like everything else, it will disappear one day, but on a human scale it is far too distant for us to worry about. »
The Perseids were there before us and they will be here after us.
Is there anything negative about showers of shooting stars?
We have the right to ask the question. Just as fireworks pollute and are very expensive, what is so negative about meteor showers like the Perseids?
“Absolutely nothing. They burn in the atmosphere, far too far away to affect us in any way,” Gilles Dawidowicz answers tit for tat.
For once, no need to think about the consequences. We can just get carried away by this magical spectacle, so close, but at the same time so far.
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