Do you ever look up at the sky and wonder how many stars there are? Have you ever tried counting them when you were a child?
Some of the pinpricks of light we see, in fact, could even belong to so-called dead stars. Dead stars are defined as being stars which have exhausted all their nuclear fusion fuel, and which therefore, so to speak, stop shining. Light travels at about 300,000Km per second, which is incredibly fast. And yet, stars are so far away that even the light from the closest stars takes years to get to us when travelling at that speed. Therefore, it’s safe to say that when we look up, it’s as though we’re looking at the past, since we’re not seeing something which is there right now, but something which was there years ago.
Falling stars are actually meteors or meteor showers, which are apparent when the orbiting Earth passes through bits of dust and rocks called meteoroids and which burn up when they touch the Earth’s atmosphere. At certain times of the year, there are a number of these recurring meteor showers, which occur when the Earth’s orbit meets the orbit or encounters a trail of debris left by a comet. Most of the time, whether it’s because of light pollution or distance, we’re not even aware that such a meteor shower is taking place… Unless we have a strong telescope or habitually make it a point to study the stars, that is.
However, certain meteor showers are well-known, mostly because they either take place repeatedly throughout the year or a number of years, depending on orbital conditions, or because they can actually be admired with the naked eye.
Perhaps the most common of these in the Eastern hemisphere is the meteor shower most commonly known as the Perseid Meteor Shower, which we are able to see each year during the month of August. Since meteor showers are normally called after the constellation from which they appear to originate, this particular meteor shower was given this name for the constellation Perseus, so called for the hero who killed the gorgon Medusa in Greek mythology.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs when Earth moves through the trail of dust and debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle as it orbits the sun. Although technically meteors fall throughout the whole month of August, the peak of the event for sky-watchers in Malta, at least this year, will take place on the nights of the 11th/13th August – when the romantically picturesque lights in the sky will be most visible.
This years’ particular Perseid Meteor Shower will apparently be even more magical and breathtaking than usual, since according to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke, the Perseids are in outburst, as Earth is running into more material left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, meaning that instead of being able to view the usual 80 falling meteors per hour, we might see from 150 to 200 per hour. And the best part is that you don’t even need a telescope to see this spectacular natural phenomenon!
Each year, the Astronomical Society of Malta invites those interested to view the peak of the Perseids’ Meteor Shower, also known as the Dmugħ ta’ San Lawrenz, at a particular designated location free of charge, also providing a couple of telescopes for the event.
Image source: TVM
Personally, I myself prefer to meet up with a couple of close friends, grab some wine, a blanket and a good mosquito spray, and find a quiet deserted place with no groups of laughing, munching, noisy people and (hopefully) no light pollution. So, all of you romantics and dreamers out there, if you have the hankering feeling to wish upon a star, this is surely the time to do it.