Astronomers were surprised and delighted this week by the Perseid meteor shower, which threw shooting star-like space objects across the night sky in a summer fireworks show. But it was not just the meteors that wowed; one telescope in Hawaii captured an impressive sight, and its video is now going viral.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs when bits of debris from a long trail of comets burn up as they hit Earth’s atmosphere at very high speeds. The result is a spectacular display of light streaks that can last a few seconds. The Perseids are also known for producing fireballs, which produce a brighter explosion of light and color than the average meteor.
Skygazers in the Northwestern part of the U.S. and Canada were baffled by a glowing trail that looked like a train flying through the sky, which some believed was caused by aliens. The mystery was solved, though, when a telescope in Hawaii captured a satellite ‘train’ moving through the sky. The footage posted on the Subaru Telescope’s YouTube channel was shot on August 11 during a special live event for the Perseid meteor shower.
Each time a meteor streaks through the sky, it leaves behind a glow several kilometers long made of heated atoms ionized by impact. These trails also reflect radio waves, which radar can pick up. As a bonus, the trails are also visible to the naked eye, making the Perseids an excellent event for people without equipment or training.
To capture a meteor streak, astronomers must avoid light pollution and have an unobstructed view of the sky. The Moon will also reduce the number of meteors that can be seen. The best time to watch is when the Moon is below the horizon.
If you want to try your hand at catching a Perseid meteor, here are some tips from astronomers:
First, make sure the camera is set for the conditions. A camera used for meteor imaging typically requires a very low ISO and a short exposure time to avoid overexposure. Then, find a dark spot to lay back and relax. Lie on your back so your body heat will radiate and be reflected less by the ground. Be patient; the Perseids can appear anywhere in the sky. It is also essential to get comfortable to stay out as long as possible and not get bored. Remember, this is not just a fun activity for kids; you can make great memories with the family watching for shooting stars! You can begin your meteor vigil at around 10 p.m. local time at the end of evening twilight and plan to spend at least an hour. Keep track of how many meteors you see, and don’t forget to snap some pictures. You never know when you’ll be lucky enough to catch a fireball! For more information, check out NASA’s All Sky Fireball Network.