While a full moon competed with last weekend's Perseid meteor shower here on Earth, six people had a clear, front-row seat: the crew of the International Space Station.
Flying 220 miles high at 17,000 mph, NASA astronaut Ron Garan and his crewmates not only got to see Perseids up-close — they watched the meteoroids falling from overhead, a view few humans have ever experienced.
Luckily for us, though, Garan also caught a photo of one Perseid buzzing the ISS (pictured above). He tweeted the shot as last weekend's shower was just tapering off, and it has since been viewed more than 200,000 times on TwitPic and spread virally elsewhere. To see the uncropped, hi-res version, click here.
And to compare Garan's photo with more traditional — but still impressive — shots of meteor showers, here are a few other Perseid photos from recent years:
Aug. 12, 2009, over southern Minnesota. (Photo: mellamokat/Flickr)
Aug. 13, 2009, over Rotbuehl, Switzerland. (Photo: Sebastian Derungs/AFP/Getty Images)
Aug. 13, 2010, over the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile. (Photo: ESO)
Aug. 13, 2011, over Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo: Shayne Kaye/Flickr)
August is known as "meteor month" in astronomy circles, largely due to the Perseids. But if the full moon (or your unwillingness to get up before dawn) kept you from seeing any this year, don't worry. The 2011 meteor season is just getting started.
Next up are the Draconids, which will peak Oct. 8 in the mainland U.S., according to StarDate. A nearly full moon may obscure them, but 2011 could still be a "legendary year" for the normally mild Draconids, EarthSky reports, with up to 1,000 meteors per hour expected. It should be darker when the Orionids peak Oct. 21, although AstronomyLive warns the moon could butt in then, too.
More meteors hit in November, with the South Taurids peaking Nov. 5-6 and the North Taurids close behind Nov. 11-12. (Both are typically minor showers, though, with around seven meteors per hour expected.) Next come the Leonids Nov. 17 and then the Geminids Dec. 13; they're often some of the planet's biggest meteor shows, along with the Perseids, but EarthSky reports they may be a bit underwhelming in 2011.
If you can't get up to the ISS this year, there are still lots of good places to see meteors from Earth. Check out this fall sky-watching guide, this light pollution map of the Lower 48 states — along with suggested sky-watching locations — and these tips for reducing light pollution. For things like lighting codes, star parties and a list of "dark sky friendly" devices, try the International Dark-Sky Association and the Dark Sky Society.
UPDATE: In addition to seeing a Perseid from above, you can also listen to what this year's shower sounded like, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Space Surveillance Radar in Texas. The following YouTube clip contains audio of the Perseids' recorded echoes as they passed over the SSR facility (listen to live audio at spaceweatherradio.com).