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It's a hoax: SA won't witness ‘brightest meteor shower in human history’ Saturday

This article is more than 6 years old

A post about “the brightest meteor shower in human history” on Saturday 12 August has gone viral on social media. South Africans haven’t missed this boat, with the message circulating on the cellphone application WhatsApp.

We decided to do some stargazing of our own.

Shower observed for nearly 2,000 years

Every year the earth passes through dust trails left behind by comets as they orbit the sun, comet and meteor specialist at the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa, Tim Cooper, told Africa Check

“When these dust particles enter earth’s atmosphere they result in meteors, commonly referred to as ‘shooting stars’ and the passage through a comet’s dust trail results in a meteor shower,” he said.

Andreas Faltenbacher, an associate professor in the school of physics at the University of the Witwatersrand, told Africa Check “every year around the 11th of August we see the Perseid meteor shower”.

Cooper explained that the point in the sky from which these meteors seem to radiate (called the radiant), is in the northern constellation of Perseus, hence the name.

“This shower occurs every year at the same time, and has been observed for nearly 2,000 years,” he added.

Likely to see only a handful of meteors ‘at best’

But far from being the brightest meteor shower in human history, South Africans are likely “to see only a handful of meteors at best if they look for long enough”, Cooper said.

He said meteor shower hunters should look at at the northern horizon just before dawn on the morning of 12 August. But he warns that many of the fainter meteors will not be visible because of the current bright moon. (Note: South African Astronomical Observatory has previously explained that the shower is "vastly more impressive when observed from the northern hemisphere" than in South Africa.)

“The message is unfortunately a hoax and without any scientific foundation,” Cooper said. “It belongs to the same genre of posts about Mars appearing as big as the full moon on August 27, which has been doing the rounds every year for the last two decades, and which will no doubt do so again in 2017.” - Ina Skosana (10/08/2017)

(Note: American myth-busting site Snopes traced this claim to a physics and astronomy blog, saying the reason “zero sources” were cited “is likely due to the fact that there is a complete lack of factual information to support it”.)

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