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Perseid Meteor Shower Unleashes Bright Fireball

The Perseid meteor shower is peaking this week andannounced its annual August arrival with a bright fireball over Alabama, NASA officialssay.

A small 1-inch (2.5-cm) wide meteor caused the fireballwhen it met a fiery demise Aug. 3 while streaking through Earth's atmosphere, according to officials at NASA's MarshallSpace Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The fireball was observed byskywatching cameras operated by the space center. [Perseidmeteor shower fireball photo.]

"It?s a very good start to this year's Perseidmeteor shower, which will peak on the night of Aug. 12-13 between midnightand dawn," explained NASA spokesperson Janet Anderson in a statement fromthe space center.

The fireball occurred at about 9:56 p.m. local time andwas low in the sky when it entered Earth's atmosphere about 70 miles (112.6 km)above the town of Paint Rock. It appeared about 9.5 degrees above the horizon.For comparison, your fist held at arm?s length is equal to roughly 10 degreesof the night sky.

NASA observations found the meteor to be hurtling through the atmosphere at a phenomenal 134,000 mph (215,652 kph).

"At such a tremendous velocity, the meteor cut apath some 65 miles [104.6 km] long, finally burning up 56 miles [90 km] aboveMacay Lake, just northeast of the town of Warrior," Anderson wrote."The meteor was about six times brighter than the planet Venus and wouldbe classified as a fireball by meteor scientists."

Because of its relatively low approach in the sky and itslong, shallow path, the meteor qualified as a so-called Earth-grazingmeteor, NASA officials said. Earth-grazing meteors are space rocks that enterthe Earth's atmosphere at a low angle, from the point of view of a givenskywatcher, and appear to scoot slowly and dramatically along the horizon.

The Perseid meteor shower is an annual event that occursin mid-August when Earth passes close to the orbit of the Comet Swift-Tuttle.

Material left behind by the comet rams into the Earth'satmosphere during the pass at about 37 miles per second (60 km/second),creating a regular show of "shooting stars" that has become known asthe Perseid meteor shower. Comet Swift-Tuttle was discovered in 1862 and mostrecently observed in 1992. It takes about 130 years to orbit the sun.

(This SPACE.com Perseidmeteor shower viewing guide shows how to observe the event. This sky map shows where to look to see the meteor shower.)

SPACE.com skywatching columnist Joe Rao has said the 2010Perseid meteor shower promises to be one to remember for skywatchers with clearskies. Under good conditions, skywatchers could see? about one meteor perminute depending on observing conditions, he said in a recent column.

"The August Perseids are among the strongest of thereadily observed annual meteor showers, and at maximum activity nominallyyields 90 to 100 meteors per hour," Rao explained. "Anyone in a cityor near bright suburban lights will see far fewer."

  • Galleries: Perseids in 2005 and 2006
  • Meteor Shower Viewer's Guide
  • Top 10 Perseid Facts

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