Comets and Shooting Stars

Public events still aren’t a thing, so it’s just Molly and me at the telescope. Comet Neowise has faded from unaided-eye visibility, but is still clear in binoculars and telescope. At the same time, the Perseid meteor shower is lighting up the sky.

Every August Earth plows through the debris trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle. As those little bits of dust and rock strike the upper atmosphere at over 12 miles per second, friction heats them to incandescence, then vaporizes them completely. From the ground, 60 miles below, we see these meteors — shooting stars — streak across the sky and vanish in a second or less. Some Perseids leave lingering, glowing trails; others explode in fireballs.

The Perseids are the debris of a different comet, but are a satisfying companion to Neowise. That comet is shedding its own debris trial before our eyes, and though Earth won’t pass through it, I still find it thrilling to see these two phenomena occur together.

Location: Truro, MA