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Summer’s Star Shower

The annual Perseid meteor shower may be unusually intense this year. A meteor storm could occur Thursday night and Friday morning, climaxing about 3 a.m. Friday, Pacific time. Astronomers are predicting that viewers in dark locations with a good view of the sky could see at least one meteor per minute--or up to several hundred per hour.

The Makings of Meteors

* Often called “shooting stars,” meteors are particles of dust shed by comets. Streaks of light are produced as the particles fall through the atmosphere and are burned up by friction when they collide with air molecules.

* Meteors fall every night, but when the Earth passes through the orbit of an active comet, meteors fall in a shower of up to a few dozen meteors per hour.

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The Comet Swift-Tuttle

* Every August the Earth passes near the orbit of the comet Swift-Tuttle and we see the so-called Perseid meteors, which radiate from the direction of the constellation Perseus.

* This comet reached its closest point to Earth in 1992, as it does once every 130 years. For several years before and after its return, showers can be intense because the Earth is passing through the part of the comet’s orbit where a lot of dust was recently shed.

* The August shower was especially brilliant in 1991 and 1992, and less so in 1993 because it peaked before dark on the West Coast. For the next two years there are still chances for bright August fireworks.

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Tips for Sky-Watchers

* The best time for viewing will be late Thursday night until 3 a.m. Friday. Meteors will also fall tonight and Friday, but with less intensity.

* If possible, get away from city lights. Griffith Observatory is too close to Downtown Los Angeles’ bright lights for good visibility and will not be open late for the event.

* For more information on celestial events, call the observatory’s Sky Report at (213) 663-8171. For program information, call (213) 664-1191.

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Source: Griffith Observatory

Researched by SHEILA DANIEL / Los Angeles Times


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