Perseid meteor shower”

Normally the month of August is a prime month for viewing “shooting stars,” or more accurately, meteors. Unfortunately 2022 will be one of the rare years that the peak of the Perseid meteor shower coincides with the last Super Moon of the year. The full moon on August 11, 2022 will severely impact the visibility of the peak nights of the shower, August 12-13, as bright moonlight will flood the sky and reduce the number of visible meteors from around 100 per hour to less than 20 per hour.

There is a bit of good news though, the Perseid are already active in weak and scattered form since July 25, and during the peak of the shower there are strong possibilities of large fireballs breaking forth in a spectacular fashion for those patient enough to wait and watch. Having this piece of information is helpful to the serious star gazer, because we can figure out how to avoid the moon during the event. In our area the moon will set at around 2:03 a.m. and the sun will not rise until 4:40 a.m., giving us a window of opportunity of just over two hours with a clear view of the dark night sky on August 8. There are two other viewing windows, 3:04-4:41 a.m. August 9 and 4:15-4:42 a.m. August 10.

There are a couple of things to be on the lookout for in these predawn hours. The constellation Perseus, which grants the shower its name, will be standing high in the northeast sky and the moon setting over the eastern horizon. If you want to get an earlier start to viewing the shower, look around to find the area of the sky with the most visible stars until the moon sets, as this will give you the best opportunity to view the shower.

While the Perseids give a beautiful show to the amateur stargazer they pose significant risk to our missions in space. As we have vastly increased the number and size of artificial satellites used for communication, space exploration and observation, we have also increased the likelihood of sustaining damage from meteors. Though we are safe from meteors reaching the ground and causing damage, as more of our communication has migrated to low earth orbit satellites, we run the risk of losing communication networks from meteor damage.

I would like to share a little history on spacecraft and satellite damage from past meteor showers, just to show that it is likely to occur again. On August 13, 2009, the Landsat 5 satellite went into a tumble during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, shortly after the observance of a plasma puff produced by a meteoroid impact which may have disrupted the electronic control signals of the satellite. Satellites are designed to mitigate the risk of damage by reorienting themselves to create a narrow impact zone, and are designed with redundant systems to avoid complete failure in the event of an impact.

In 1993 the European Space Agency’s Olympus 1 satellite was struck by a meteoroid, disabling the solar panel pointing system, leaving it vulnerable to impact. The following year it was struck a second time, causing it to spin out of control. The attempts to regain control burned the satellite’s remaining fuel, leaving it in a “graveyard” orbit, where it would safely orbit away from other satellites. It is still orbiting and slowly falling towards its demise, with an unavoidable atmospheric impact in its future.

Not all space collisions are catastrophic; the Hubble Space Telescope survived a collision which punched a 2.5-millimeter hole in one of the solar panels. This is about the size of a standard pellet gun hole. The panel was replaced and brought back for us to study during a 2002 servicing mission. We have learned a lot about the dangers in space through monitoring damage to artificial satellites and it always makes me thankful for our protective atmosphere.

For those looking forward to seeing a shooting star this year, I hope the knowledge shared helps improve your chances, and don’t be surprised to learn about communication satellite impacts during this and future meteor showers. If nothing else, enjoy the light of the third and final super moon of 2022. Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.

Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to shamilton@techshepherd.org or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.

Normally the month of August is a prime month for viewing “shooting stars,” or more accurately, meteors. Unfortunately 2022 will be one of the rare years that the peak of the Perseid meteor shower coincides with the last Super Moon of the year. The full moon on August 11, 2022 will severely impact the visibility of the peak nights of the shower, August 12-13, as bright moonlight will flood the sky and reduce the number of visible meteors from around 100 per hour to less than 20 per hour.

There is a bit of good news though, the Perseid are already active in weak and scattered form since July 25, and during the peak of the shower there are strong possibilities of large fireballs breaking forth in a spectacular fashion for those patient enough to wait and watch. Having this piece of information is helpful to the serious star gazer, because we can figure out how to avoid the moon during the event. In our area the moon will set at around 2:03 a.m. and the sun will not rise until 4:40 a.m., giving us a window of opportunity of just over two hours with a clear view of the dark night sky on August 8. There are two other viewing windows, 3:04-4:41 a.m. August 9 and 4:15-4:42 a.m. August 10.

There are a couple of things to be on the lookout for in these predawn hours. The constellation Perseus, which grants the shower its name, will be standing high in the northeast sky and the moon setting over the eastern horizon. If you want to get an earlier start to viewing the shower, look around to find the area of the sky with the most visible stars until the moon sets, as this will give you the best opportunity to view the shower.

While the Perseids give a beautiful show to the amateur stargazer they pose significant risk to our missions in space. As we have vastly increased the number and size of artificial satellites used for communication, space exploration and observation, we have also increased the likelihood of sustaining damage from meteors. Though we are safe from meteors reaching the ground and causing damage, as more of our communication has migrated to low earth orbit satellites, we run the risk of losing communication networks from meteor damage.

I would like to share a little history on spacecraft and satellite damage from past meteor showers, just to show that it is likely to occur again. On August 13, 2009, the Landsat 5 satellite went into a tumble during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, shortly after the observance of a plasma puff produced by a meteoroid impact which may have disrupted the electronic control signals of the satellite. Satellites are designed to mitigate the risk of damage by reorienting themselves to create a narrow impact zone, and are designed with redundant systems to avoid complete failure in the event of an impact.

In 1993 the European Space Agency’s Olympus 1 satellite was struck by a meteoroid, disabling the solar panel pointing system, leaving it vulnerable to impact. The following year it was struck a second time, causing it to spin out of control. The attempts to regain control burned the satellite’s remaining fuel, leaving it in a “graveyard” orbit, where it would safely orbit away from other satellites. It is still orbiting and slowly falling towards its demise, with an unavoidable atmospheric impact in its future.

Not all space collisions are catastrophic; the Hubble Space Telescope survived a collision which punched a 2.5-millimeter hole in one of the solar panels. This is about the size of a standard pellet gun hole. The panel was replaced and brought back for us to study during a 2002 servicing mission. We have learned a lot about the dangers in space through monitoring damage to artificial satellites and it always makes me thankful for our protective atmosphere.

For those looking forward to seeing a shooting star this year, I hope the knowledge shared helps improve your chances, and don’t be surprised to learn about communication satellite impacts during this and future meteor showers. If nothing else, enjoy the light of the third and final super moon of 2022. Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.

Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to shamilton@techshepherd.org or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.

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