Denizens of planet Earth watched this year’s Perseid meteor shower by looking up into the moonlit night sky. But this remarkable view captured by astronaut Ron Garan looks down on a Perseid meteor.
From Garan’s perspective onboard the International Space Station orbiting at an altitude of about 380 kilometers, the Perseid meteors streak below, swept up dust left from comet Swift-Tuttle heated to incandescence. The glowing comet dust grains are traveling at about 60 kilometers per second through the denser atmosphere around 100 kilometers above Earth’s surface. In this case, the foreshortened meteor flash is right of frame center, below the curving limb of the Earth and a layer of greenish airglow. Out of the frame, the Sun is on the horizon beyond one of the station’s solar panel arrays at the upper right. Seen above the meteor near the horizon is bright star Arcturus and a star field that includes the constellations Bootes and Corona Borealis. The image was recorded on August 13 while the space station orbited above an area of China approximately 400 kilometers to the northwest of Beijing.
ISS028-E-024847 (13 Aug. 2011) — Astronaut Ron Garan, Expedition 28 flight engineer, tweeted this image from the International Space Station on Aug. 14 with the following caption: “What a ‘Shooting Star’ looks like from space, taken yesterday during Perseid Meteor Shower.” The image was photographed from the orbiting complex on Aug. 13 when it was over an area of China approximately 400 kilometers to the northwest of Beijing. The rare photo opportunity came as no surprise since the Perseid Meteor Shower occurs every year in August. The meteors are particles that originate from the comet Swift-Tuttle along its orbital path; the comet’s orbit is close enough for these particles to be swept up by the Earth’s gravitational field each year. Green and dim yellow airglow appears as thin layers visible above the limb of the Earth, extending from image left to upper image right. Atoms and molecules above 50 kilometers in the atmosphere are excited by sunlight during the day, and then release this energy at night producing primarily green light observable from orbit. The sun is low on the horizon as it appears near part of one of the station’s solar panel arrays at image upper right.
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