Streaking at break-neck speed across the sky, it’s easy to miss a meteor. Blink and they’re gone.
For a brief instant a speck of dust emitted from the Swift-Tuttle comet enters the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s travelling at 37 miles (59 km) per second. At this incredible speed the comet debris heats up the air around it, generating a burst of light as it hurtles across the sky. In only a fraction of a second it burns up and is gone.
And this amazing sight is caused just by a tiny speck of dust the size of a grain of sand.
Meteors are nature’s fireworks. The Perseids meteor shower provides the best show each year, when the Earth passes through the dust and debris left behind by the Swift-Tuttle comet, the largest known object that regularly passes by our planet. It peaks this year on 12-13 August when, if you’re lucky, you can spot up to 100 meteors an hour. This year, owing to the bright three-quarters moon, it’s more difficult to see weaker meteors when around 40 – 50 meteors an hour can be seen.
I spent an enjoyable couple of hours last night stargazing beside Loch Achray in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. The night was clear and still.
Others were there too, camping beside the loch and enjoying a fire, and the sound of voices and laughter drifted across the water. In a place that’s usually very quiet I looked around and spotted no less then four fires around the loch – and it’s one of Scotland’s smaller lochs.
There’s a real moral dilemma for the National Park authority. People should have the right to enjoy the outdoors by camping and lighting a fire – it’s a fantastic thing to experience. But their concern is the cumulative impact of all of the scorched areas of earth, impromptu campsites and litter left behind. Loch Achray is within the newly-designated Camping Management Zone but I have no idea whether any of these campers had a permit or what state they left their campsites this morning.
Just as meteors make a brief appearance before they disappear without trace can we humans do the same?