The Perseid Meteor Shower Is Going to Be Amazing This Weekend

Bill Ingalls, NASA/Getty Images
Bill Ingalls, NASA/Getty Images

If you have camping plans this weekend, you’re in luck. The annual Perseid meteor shower will be returning August 10–13, and it’s expected to be the best and brightest one in years, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel writes for Forbes.

The Perseid meteor shower—named after the Perseus constellation, where the meteors originate—occurs every August when the Earth passes through a path of debris left by the Swift-Tuttle comet. This comet orbits the Sun once every 133 years, and in doing so, the intense heat and tidal forces cause parts of the comet to break off, creating a floating field of debris. The dust and particles left behind compose a comet's two tails: the ion tail and the dust tail.

According to Siegel, a few factors determine how spectacular a meteor shower will be, including light pollution conditions, how close Earth gets to the center of the debris stream, the relative speed of the debris to Earth, and the stream's density. Plus, the new moon phase on August 11 guarantees a darker sky. For this reason, Saturday night should be the best time to head outside and look up.

"The Moon is very favorable for the Perseids this year, and that'll make the Perseids probably the best shower of 2018 for people who want to go out and view it,” NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke tells Space.com.

You’ll probably be able to see 60 to 70 meteors per hour at its peak. The most important consideration is to head somewhere with dark skies and little light pollution. For guidance, you can check out this online map of artificial sky brightness. Once you arrive at your preferred viewing spot, wait for the sky to get completely dark—about 2 to 3 hours after sunset.

Swift-Tuttle, the same comet that gives us these dazzling meteor displays, might also collide with Earth and wipe out life as we know it—but not for another 2460 years, at the very least. So until then, sit back and enjoy the cosmic show.

[h/t Forbes]

A Cartoonist and Physicist Team Up to Explain the Universe in New Science Podcast

iStock
iStock

Have you ever wondered how galaxies formed, what constitutes dark matter, or what exactly lies inside a black hole? You’re not the only one. A new podcast called Daniel and Jorge Explain the Universe is condensing these complex topics into 35-minute lessons that everyone can understand.

The podcasters who lent their namesake to the show are cartoonist Jorge Cham and physicist Daniel Whiteson. They previously teamed up to pen the 2017 book We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe, which explored some of the many unanswered questions about the world and how it works. Their new venture will tackle similar themes.

So far, they’ve produced two episodes, both of which launch today, and which address the questions “Is the Higgs Boson useful?” and “Are we living in a simulation?” The tone of the show is laid-back and conversational, so it’s easy for the uninitiated to follow.

“Think of it as your chance to sit at a bar with some cool scientists and getting to ask them all the things you always wanted to know about space, stars, particles, and the cosmos,” Whiteson, who conducts research using the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), says in a promotional video.

The podcast is a product of HowStuffWorks, which also produces Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed in History Class, The Daily Zeitgeist, and of course Part-Time Genius, from the pair who founded Mental Floss.

Newly Uncovered Galileo Letter Details How He Tried to Avoid the Inquisition

Galileo Before The Papal Tribunal by Robert Henry. Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Galileo Before The Papal Tribunal by Robert Henry. Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Galileo Galilei was one of the Roman Catholic Inquisition’s most famous targets. As a result of his outspoken support for the theory that all the planets, Earth included, revolve around the Sun, the Catholic Church charged him with heresy and he spent the last years of his life under house arrest. Galileo was well aware that he was on the Church’s hit list, and a newly discovered letter shows that at one point, he tried to tone down his ideas to avoid persecution, according to Nature and Ars Technica.

The letter in question, written in 1613, solves a long-held mystery for Galileo scholars. It was found in the library of the Royal Society, where it has been for at least 250 years.

Galileo’s beef with the Catholic Church came about because of his support for heliocentrism—the idea that the solar system centers around the Sun—as advocated in Nicolaus Copernicus’s book De Revolutionibus. Galileo’s scientific writings clearly endorsed Copernicus’s theory of the world, including in personal correspondence that was widely disseminated, and in some cases, he directly questioned the scientific merit of Biblical passages.

In 1613, Galileo wrote to a friend and former student named Benedetto Castelli who was then teaching mathematics at the University of Pisa. The letter was a long treatise on Galileo’s thoughts on Copernicus’s ideas and religion, arguing that science and astronomy should not be overpowered by religious doctrine. (He would later expand this into his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina.) As with many of Galileo’s writings at the time, the letter was copied and disseminated widely, and eventually, a friar named Niccolò Lorini forwarded it to the Inquisition in Rome in 1615.

This is where things get tricky. Galileo claimed that the version of the letter Lorini sent was doctored to be more inflammatory. He sent a less controversial version of the letter to a friend, saying that it was the original document and should be forwarded to the Vatican, essentially to clear his name. But scholars have never been able to be totally sure if he was telling the truth about the letter being doctored.

This newly discovered letter suggests that he was lying, and that he himself was looking to tone down his rhetoric to appease the Catholic Church and keep authorities from quashing the spread of heliocentric ideas. The original copy found in the Royal Society archives shows changes to the wording in what appears to be Galileo’s handwriting. The seven-page letter, signed “G.G.,” includes changes like swapping the word “false” for the more slippery “look different from the truth,” changing “concealing” to “veiling,” and other edits that seek to tone down the rhetoric that inflamed Church leaders. The wording and handwriting corresponds to similar writing by Galileo at the time. Based on this finding, it seems that Galileo did seek to make his ideas more palatable to the Catholic Church in the hopes of escaping persecution by the Inquisition.

Discovered on a research trip by science historian Salvatore Ricciardo of Italy's University of Bergamo, the letter may have been overlooked in the Royal Society archives because it was cataloged as being dated October 21, 1613 rather than the date it actually bears, December 21, 1613. However, it’s unclear how it came to the Royal Society in the first place. The document is the subject of a forthcoming article by Ricciardo and his colleagues in the Royal Society journal Notes and Records, according to Nature.

The minor changes Galileo made did not successfully hold off the Church’s crackdown on heliocentrism. In 1616, the Inquisition ordered Galileo to stop teaching or defending the theory, and several of his books were subsequently banned. He would stand trial again almost two decades later, in 1633, on suspicion of holding heretical thoughts. He was found guilty and sentenced to house arrest, where he remained until his death in 1642.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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