WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

August meteor shower not expected to be brighter than usual despite Facebook claims

Posted July 28

Outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image (Credit: NASA/JPL)

Claims of a rare meteor shower coming in August are circulating among social media sites. A version that hit my Facebook page recently opens with:

"Astronomers have confirmed that there will be a meteor shower on the night of August 12, 2017, which will be the brightest shower in human history."

This, and articles like it, go on to claim that “night will appear as day” and that this is a “once in a lifetime opportunity." There is very little truth here.

What is true

There will be a meteor shower on Aug. 12, 2017. The Perseid meteor shower is among the strongest and most well-known. Perseids are active from July 13 through Aug. 26, peaking the night of Aug. 12 into the following morning. The meteors visible during this shower are remnants of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle during its many trips through our part of the solar system.

There have been spectacular outbursts of meteor showers, often called meteor storms, in the past. Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1833 of a meteor storm generally agreed upon to be the Leonids. “I sprang from my bed and rushed to the window, and saw the stars falling in great showers," Lincoln wrote.

What is not true

Because the Earth passes through different streams of debris left by the parent comet or asteroid, meteor showers do vary in intensity from year to year. However, there is no expectation that this year’s Perseids will be particularly bright or numerous.

Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Spaceflight Center confirmed this morning that no outburst of activity is expected this year. The office estimates that 80-100 meteors will be visible per hour under optimal viewing conditions away from light pollution remain—about the same estimate in the past.

The intensity of a meteor shower is difficult to predict, though. While we know which debris stream Earth will be passing through, and historical records of past meteor showers can give us an idea of how many meteors we might see and how bright they might be, those streams are constantly being pulled and pushed by the gravity of the Sun, Jupiter and the rest of the solar system. We just can't predict with the confidence displayed in these claims.

Look for more about the Perseid meteor shower here in the Weather Blog closer to the peak.

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