Awesome videos capture the afterglow of Perseid meteors exploding in the night sky
posted Monday, August 19, 2013 at 12:17 PM EST
In late July and early August each year, there's a free show in our night skies as planet Earth passes through debris left along the orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle. It's known as the Perseid meteor shower, and because of Swift-Tuttle's orbit, it's best viewed in the northern hemisphere.
Although the Perseids are set to continue through the end of the week, we've already passed the peak of this year's event. If you had clear skies last weekend, you'll have seen as many as 60 meteors or more every hour leaving their brief imprint as they burned up in the upper atmosphere.
If you missed out, though, fear not -- there are plenty of great Perseids videos on Youtube and Vimeo that will give you a glimpse of what you missed. A few lucky individuals caught more than just the light show, however. The folks at Universe Today spotted videos from photographer Michael K. Chung and astronomer Steve Knight that show not only some of this year's Perseids, but also a more rarely-seen event.
As each meteor tears through our atmosphere, it strips electrons from atoms, ionizing the gases and leaving behind a glow that can last for as long as 20-30 minutes. Winds in the upper atmosphere carry this glowing trail with them, and in the process give the appearance of a shock wave traveling in slow motion.
Chung's video was the first found by Universe Today, and it was shot from his back yard in Victorville, California. It shows the event several times, but you'll see it first at the bottom of the screen near the 13 second mark:
A later update on the post added Steve Knight's video, which shows more persistent trails. Watch near the top right corner at around the 19 second mark for the clearest example:
Perhaps our favorite persistent trail video of the bunch, though, was filmed a couple of years ago. Photographer Randy Halverson runs the superb Dakotalapse website, and uses Canon DSLRs to film some truly bewitching astro timelapse videos. Randy's video "Temporal Distortion" -- shown below, and also available as a 23-minute extended cut -- features several persistent trails. The clearest of these happens at the 53-second point, near the top center of the frame.
If you've missed this year's Perseids as we have -- persistent clouds and drizzle haven't make for ideal viewing conditions -- hopefully the videos will go some way to making up for it. And remember, if you get some clear skies, there are still a few days of the Perseids to come. With the peak now past, you may need to exercise some patience, but it'll be worth it...