Monday 11 August 2014

Little Gnome Astronomical Fact #5

The Tears of St Lawrence (The Perseid Meteors)

On the night of August 12th/13th  the Perseid meteor shower can be seen, to most people they are referred to as ‘shooting stars’, they have however nothing to do with stars, they are tiny grains of dust burning up as they enter our atmosphere.

Meteors are connected with comets, the Rosetta space craft has just arrived at comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. As comets travel around the Sun they leave a trail of dust behind them, if the Earth passes through such a trail we see a meteor shower like the Perseids. This shower is so named because all the meteors appear too radiant from one point in the sky, in this case the constellation Perseus.

If it is clear around 60-90 meteors per hour can be seen from sites that are not badly affected by street lights. These meteors come from the trail of comet Swift- Tuttle.

A long time ago the Perseids were often known by another name ‘The Tears of St Lawrence’
In 258 AD in Rome the Christian called Lawrence told Emperor Valerian that he could give him all the wealth of the empire. Valerian thought Lawrence was talking about gold and silver but he was referring to the people of Rome. Valerian was not impressed and had Lawrence burnt alive. This was on August 10th 258.
The following evening the Perseids arrived right on schedule, but people looking up thought they were tears from heaven, ‘The Tears of St Lawrence’.

Over a 1,000 years later the French explorer Jacques Cartier was exploring the new world, the part we now call Canada. He arrived at a great river and camped. It was August and at night the Perseids were doing their regular display. Being the first European and knowing the story of the tears of St Lawrence he decided to name that mighty river, the St Lawrence.

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