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Don't Look Up

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

Don't look up, unless you want to witness a phenomenon that has fascinated humans for centuries and is even believed to have played a role in the demise of the dinosaurs.

The Perseid meteor shower is poised to grace the night sky over the Okanagan this weekend, potentially treating observers to dozens of "shooting stars" streaking across the heavens every minute, assuming the sky remains clear.

The origin of this celestial spectacle harkens back to ancient times. Throughout history, cultures from various corners of the globe have observed meteor showers with awe and curiosity. In ancient times, these meteor showers were often interpreted as significant omens or messages from the gods. Such meteorological events were even documented in medical texts of ancient civilizations, attributed to diverse causes ranging from supernatural occurrences to atmospheric phenomena.

The Perseid meteor shower, as we know it today, gained particular recognition thanks to the work of astronomers in the 19th century. The significance of this annual event was recognized by astronomers such as Adolphe Quételet and Edward Herrick, who independently established its cyclic nature. It wasn't until the 1830s that the link between the Perseid meteor shower and the comet Swift-Tuttle was proposed, shedding light on the celestial mechanics that produce this dazzling display.

Fast forward to the modern era, and we now understand that twice every year, as the Earth orbits the sun, it passes through the debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle, a cosmic object that fragmented millions of years ago. The remnants of this comet create the spectacular Perseid meteor shower as they burn up upon entering Earth's atmosphere.

The connection between celestial events like the Perseid meteor shower and major geological changes on Earth became a subject of scientific exploration. Scientists today believe that the end of the dinosaurs could be attributed to a cataclysmic collision between Earth and an asteroid impact around 65 million years ago. This impact, likely from a very large fragment of the asteroid, led to widespread climate disruptions that led to the extinction of approximately 75 percent of life on our planet.

For those eager to witness this stunning cosmic display, the optimal time to view the meteor shower is during the late hours of the night, typically after midnight. Gaze toward the northeastern horizon, as that's where the radiant point of the Perseid meteor shower is situated. This radiant point is the apparent origin of the meteors, a point from which they appear to streak across the sky. To maximize your chances of experiencing this awe-inspiring show, find a location away from the glare of city lights, allowing the night sky to truly reveal its celestial wonders.

As you look up at the Perseid meteor shower, remember that you're gazing upon a phenomenon that has captivated humanity for ages, connecting us to both the mysteries of the universe and the intricate history of our own planet.

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Fascinating stuff and makes me feel very small in the scheme of things.

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