A meteor shower will give Earth a celestial fireworks show early this week, as our planet makes its annual passage near Comet Swift-Tuttle's path around the sun.
Known as the Perseid meteor shower, the celestial event has occurred every August for at least 2,000 years and is most visible this year on Monday night and Tuesday morning in the hours just after midnight prior to sunrise, CNN reported
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"This is interplanetary dust," Diego Janches, who studies micrometeoroids at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a NASA press release. "The fragments are either remnants from the solar system's formation
, or they are produced by collisions between asteroids or comets from long ago."
The Comet Swift-Tuttle, from which the small fragments emanated from, orbits the sun every 130 years, and the last closest encounter occurred 20 years ago.
The meteor shower, visible from the Earth's surface, occurs when fragments light up "due to the immense friction created when they plough into the gas surrounding Earth," according to NASA.
Fragments from the Comet Swift-Tuttle are no larger than a dime's diameter and impact the Earth's atmosphere at speeds of between 7 to 44 miles per second, bringing with them minerals and metals from their parent bodies, including silicon, sodium, magnesium, and calcium.
Whereas the meteor shower is entertainment for the common sky gazer, the event represents a research opportunity for Janches and other NASA scientists.
"The small meteoroids feed the atmosphere with all these extra materials," Janches said. "They come in, release metallic atoms that get deposited in the mesosphere and then get pushed around from pole to pole by the general global circulation. By using the metals as tracers, you can answer some important questions about the general composition and movement of the atmosphere."
Though the meteor shower will be visible to the naked eye, NASA setup a live broadcast of the event above its Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. for sky gazers who face inclement weather or light-polluted night skies.
The camera will activate at full dusk at approximately 9 p.m. EDT, and can be viewed on NASA's website
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