Called “shooting stars” or “falling stars,” these celestial fragments or meteors streak across the night sky. Although observers may be able to see a meteor on just about any night of the year, the best times to see such a brilliant display is during a meteor shower, which occurs at various times each year. According to space.com, the best annual show, the Perseid Meteor shower, is set to peak this year on Sunday, Aug. 11 and Monday Aug. 12 with possibly70 meteors per hour.
Originating in the constellation Perseus, the Perseids are named after one of the ancient heroes of Greek mythology, said to have been born from "a shower of heavenly gold." Actually such meteors are small specks of dust and ice that enter the earth's atmosphere at high speeds of 134,000 mph, producing light, as they burn up while streaking across the nighttime sky.
Most meteor showers are spawned by comets as they orbit the Sun. The resulting icy, dusty debris stream is sometimes called “celestial pollution.” With the Perseids, those dust grains are connected with Comet Swift-Tuttle, which circles the sun once every 133 years, leaving behind a debris trail of “dirty snowballs” that develop tails when they approach the sun and start to melt.
This year observers can watch the Perseid meteor shower live online: Click here to find out how: Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend: Watch It Online
A Past Meteor Shower of Note
A pastoral care meditation posted by the Medical University of South Carolina, described a most unusual event occurring 180 years ago:
In 1833, a little after 3:00 a.m. on a clear, cold night in Virginia, Samuel Rogers was awakened strangely. As he wrote later: “I heard one of the children cry out, in a voice expressive of alarm: ‘Come to the door, father, the world is surely coming to an end.’ Another exclaimed: ‘See! The whole heavens are on fire! All the stars are falling!’ These cries brought us all into the open yard, to gaze upon the grandest and most beautiful scene my eyes have ever beheld. It did appear as if every star had left its moorings, and was drifting rapidly in a westerly direction, leaving behind a track of light which remained visible for several seconds. . . No tome in a thousand could give any rational account of this wonderful phenomenon; so it will not appear strange that there was widespread alarm at this ‘star-shooting,’ so called. Some really thought that the Judgment Day was at hand, and they fell on their knees in penitence, confessing all the sins of their past lives, and calling upon God to have mercy. On our journey we heard little talked of but the ‘falling of the stars.’
It was later discovered that what occurred was actually a Leonid meteor shower, a regular occurrence whenever Earth’s orbit passes through the tail of the comet Tempel-Tuttle, the same source as the annual Perseid meteor shower. In 1833 a meteor storm occurred, producing as many as 2000 meteors per hour to light up the night sky which some observers described as “so bright that it seemed dawn had come in the middle of the night.”
Those who observe the sky for signs of the end times and the return of Jesus Christ, often point to Mark 13:24-26:
The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
The lyrics to the Black spiritual popularized by Marian Anderson, who also used the opening line as the title of her autobiography, also come to mind:
My Lord, what a morning / My Lord, what a morning / My Lord, what a morning /When the stars begin to fall.
The increase in meteors and other phenomena provide ample opportunities to consider the meaning of such celestial occurrences.
Take a look at the slide show of photos related to the Perseid meteor shower, and check out these related articles as well: