The "tears of St. Lawrence," otherwise known as the Perseid meteor shower, will peak this coming weekend, giving stargazers a fantastic show.
The Perseid meteor shower has a long and storied history with astronomers. According to Newsday, it was the ancient Chinese sky watchers who first documented the meteor event in 36 AD and wrote that "more than 100 meteors flew thither in the morning."
According to the Boston Globe, 2012 will mark a particularly stellar year for viewing the Perseid meteor shower, as the Earth is expected to encounter the "core" of the Perseid swarm, where meteoroid concentration is densest, on Aug. 12. Meteorologist David Epstein said, "Saturday and Sunday nights the moon will be in a waning crescent phase, therefore moonlight won't hamper viewing."
In 1862, Americans Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle discovered a comet that was then named after them. Space.com noted that French astronomer Camille Flammarion ranked comet Swift-Tuttle among the ten "really fine and striking comets" of the 19th century.
But it was not until 1867 that the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli discovered the comet was the source of the Perseid shower. "Schiaparelli was proven correct; comet Swift-Tuttle is indeed the progenitor of the Perseid meteor shower — the first direct correlation to be found between a comet and meteor shower," Space.com reported.
According to NASA, the small meteors that people on Earth can see likely "boiled off the comet during the Civil War, in 1862. Other dust in the cloud is older (perhaps thousands of years old), more dispersed, and responsible for the month-long shower that peaks on August 12." Eventually, these small pieces will disperse and the tears of St. Lawrence will dry up.
More on the meteor shower here: