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For the mythological term, see Perseides. For the Mycenaean royal house, see Perseid dynasty.
Perseids (PER)
Perseid meteor and Milky Way in 2009.jpg
A long, multicolored 2009 Perseid streaks across the sky, just to the left of the Milky Way.
Pronunciation /ˈpərsɪdz/
Discovery date 36 AD (first record)[1][2]
Parent body Comet Swift–Tuttle[3]
Constellation Perseus
Right ascension 03h 04m[3]
Declination +58°[3]
Date of peak August 12[3] (July 23–August 20)[3]
Velocity 58[4] km/s
Zenithal hourly rate 80[3]

The Perseids /ˈpərsɪdz/ are a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift–Tuttle. The Perseids are so called because the point from which they appear to come, called the radiant, lies in the constellation Perseus. The name derives in part from the word Perseides (Περσείδες), a term found in Greek mythology referring to the sons of Perseus.


A near-Earth perspective of its orbit, the radiant of the Perseid meteor shower, and the orbit of the shower’s parent comet, 109P/Swift-Tuttle, to show their spatial relationships on August 12 00:00 UTC. The Perseid debris cloud is fairly wide (~0.1 AU), filling the frame.

The stream of debris is called the Perseid cloud and stretches along the orbit of the comet Swift–Tuttle. The cloud consists of particles ejected by the comet as it travels on its 133-year orbit.[5] Most of the particles have been part of the cloud for around a thousand years. However, there is also a relatively young filament of dust in the stream that was pulled off the comet in 1865, which can give an early mini-peak the day before the maximum shower.[6] The dimensions of the cloud in the vicinity of the Earth are estimated to be approximately 0.1 astronomical units (AU) across and 0.8 AU along the latter’s orbit, spread out by annual interactions with the Earth’s gravity.[7]

The shower is visible from mid-July each year, with the peak in activity between 9 and 14 August, depending on the particular location of the stream. During the peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour. They can be seen all across the sky; however, because of the shower’s radiant in the constellation of Perseus, the Perseids are primarily visible in the Northern Hemisphere. As with many meteor showers the visible rate is greatest in the pre-dawn hours, since more meteoroids are scooped up by the side of the Earth moving forward into the stream, corresponding to local times between midnight and noon, as can be seen in the accompanying diagram.[8] While many meteors arrive between dawn and noon, they are usually not visible due to daylight. Some can also be seen before midnight, often grazing the Earth’s atmosphere to produce long bright trails and sometimes fireballs. Most Perseids burn up in the atmosphere while at heights above 80 kilometres (50 mi).[9]

The 2010 Perseids over the ESO's VLT
Year Perseids active between Peak of shower
2015 July 17 – August 24 August 12–13[10] (ZHRmax 95) (New moon Aug 14)
2014 July 17 – August 24 August 13 (ZHRmax 68)[11] (Full moon Aug 10)
2013 July 17 – August 24 August 12 (ZHRmax 109)[12]
2012 July 17 – August 24 August 12 (ZHRmax 122)[13]
2011 July 17 – August 24 August 12 (ZHRmax 58)[14] (Full moon Aug 13)[15]
2010 July 23 – August 24 August 12 (ZHRmax 142)[16]
2009 July 14 – August 24 August 13 (ZHRmax 173) (the estimated peak was 173,[17] but fainter meteors were washed out by a gibbous Moon.)
2008 July 25 – August 24[18] August 13 (ZHRmax 116)[18]
2007 July 19 – August 25[19] August 13 (ZHRmax 93)[19]
2006 12/13 August[20]
2004 August 12 (ZHRmax >200)[4]
1994 (ZHRmax >200)[2]
1993 (ZHRmax 200–500)[2]
1992 August 11 outburst under an Aug 13 full moon[21]
1864 (ZHRmax >100)[2]
1863 (ZHRmax 109–215)[2]
1861 (ZHRmax 78–102)[2]
1858 (ZHRmax 37–88)[2]
1839 (ZHRmax 165)[2]

Historical observations and associations[edit]

A Perseid in 2007

The earliest information on this meteor shower is found in Chinese annals in 36 AD. In Roman times, the shower was attributed to the fertility god Priapus, protector of virility but also of livestock, orchards, and gardens; the meteor shower was nothing more than an ejaculation of the god that fertilized the fields. According to Plutarch in "De cupiditate Divitiarum", each year on August 10 a grand procession took place to honor Priapus and the fields were "baptized" with a mixture of water, honey, and wine to ensure the land’s fertility. Priapus was associated with Pan, Dionysus, Lupercus, Faunus, and the Etruscan divinity Acca Larentia, protectress of the poor, prostitutes, and agricultural fertility. [22]

Some Catholics refer to the Perseids as the "tears of Saint Lawrence", suspended in the sky but returning to earth once a year on August 10, the canonical date of that saint's martyrdom in 258 AD.[23] The saint is said to have been burnt alive on a gridiron, and this tradition is almost certainly the origin of the Mediterranean folk legend that the shooting stars are the sparks of that fire and that during the night of August 9–10 its cooled embers appear in the ground under plants, and which are known as the "coal of Saint Lawrence".[24][25] The transition in favor of the Catholic saint and his feast day on August 10 and away from pagan gods and their festivals, known as Christianization, was facilitated by the phonetic assonance of the Latin name Laurentius with Larentia.[26][27]

In 1835, Adolphe Quetelet identified the shower as emanating from the constellation Perseus.[1][2] In 1866, after the perihelion passage of Swift-Tuttle in 1862, the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli discovered the link between meteor showers and comets. The finding is contained in an exchange of letters with Angelo Secchi.

In popular culture[edit]

In his song "Rocky Mountain High", American singer-songwriter John Denver refers to his experience watching the Perseid meteor shower during a family camping trip in the mountains near Aspen, Colorado, with the chorus lyric, "I've seen it raining fire in the sky."

In the popular Japanese band Sandaime J Soul Brother's song R.Y.U.S.E.I (Meteor), they describe the Perseid meteor as falling like an evening rain shower - its shooting stars like raindrops pulling their tails behind them.


  1. ^ a b Dr. Bill Cooke; Danielle Moser & Rhiannon Blaauw (2012-08-11). "NASA Chat: Stay ‘Up All Night’ to Watch the Perseids!" (PDF). NASA. p. 55. Retrieved 2013-08-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gary W. Kronk. "Observing the Perseids". Meteor Showers Online. Retrieved 2009-08-12. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Moore, Patrick; Rees, Robin (2011), Patrick Moore's Data Book of Astronomy (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press, p. 275, ISBN 0521899354 
  4. ^ a b Żołądek, P.; et al. (October 2009), "The 2004 Perseid meteor shower - Polish Fireball Network double station preliminary results", Journal of the International Meteor Organization 37 (5): 161–163, Bibcode:2009JIMO...37..161Z 
  5. ^ Dan Vergano (2010-08-07). "Perseid meteor shower to light up night sky this weekend". Retrieved 2013-08-12. 
  6. ^ Dr. Tony Phillips (June 25, 2004). "The 2004 Perseid Meteor Shower". Science@NASA. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  7. ^ D.W. Hughes (1996). "Cometary Dust Loss: Meteoroid Streams and the Inner Solar System Dust Cloud". In J. Mayo Greenberg. The Cosmic Dust Connection. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 375. Retrieved 2015-07-24. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "NASA All Sky Fireball Network: Perseid End Height". NASA Meteor Watch on Facebook. 2012-08-11. Retrieved 2012-11-19. 
  10. ^ "Meteor Showers 2015". Retrieved 2015-08-09. 
  11. ^ "Perseids 2014: visual data quicklook". 2014-08-13. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  12. ^ "Perseids 2013: visual data quicklook". 2013-09-23. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  13. ^ "Perseids 2012: visual data quicklook". 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  14. ^ "Perseids 2011: visual data quicklook". 2011-10-06. Retrieved 2014-04-20. 
  15. ^ "How to See the Best Meteor Showers of the Year: Tools, Tips and 'Save the Dates'". Retrieved 2010-11-16. 
  16. ^ "How to See the Best Meteor Showers of the Year: Tools, Tips and 'Save the Dates'". Retrieved 2010-08-12. 
  17. ^ "Perseids 2009: visual data quicklook". 2010-04-26. Retrieved 2009-08-11. 
  18. ^ a b "Perseids 2008: visual data quicklook". 2009-06-06. Retrieved 2009-08-11. 
  19. ^ a b Perseids 2007: first results
  20. ^ EAAS
  21. ^ Brown. "The Perseids 1992. New outburst announces return of P/Swift-Tuttle". Bibcode:1992JIMO...20..192B. 
  22. ^ (Italian) The cult of Priapus
  23. ^ "Science: Tears of St. Lawrence". TIME. 1926-08-23. Retrieved 2009-08-12. 
  24. ^ (Italian) Falling stars and coal under the basil
  25. ^ (Italian) The Coal of Saint Lawrence
  26. ^ (Italian) Castrum Inui
  27. ^ "SHOOTING STARS". utestudents BLOG. 

External links[edit]