It’s not arrogance — it’s just perspective. When everyone else is looking up, astronauts are looking down. And when what we’re looking for is a meteor shower, to say that the folks up at the International Space Station had the best seats in the house would be something of an understatement.
If you’re among the 80 percent of the world’s population living in an area with such extreme light pollution that you can’t see the stars, you probably couldn’t catch much of a show this past weekend when the Perseids made an appearance. But rest assured that no matter where you were on Earth, there’s no way that you could’ve gotten as good of a look as the folks miles above our planet’s surface.
Without any cloud cover to worry about or other pesky conditions to obscure their view, the folks aboard the ISS decided to set up an extremely sensitive, high-definition camera in the Window Observational Research Facility. And needless to say, it captured some pretty remarkable footage.
Beginning August 10, the ISS crew began seeing a bit of action from the Perseid shower, and before that, the project caught a meteor from the Delta Aquarids flying over the Pacific Ocean at the end of July. And while there’s plenty of aesthetic value in these images, scientists are gleaning valuable information from the captures as well.
For example, by analyzing the wavelengths of light the meteors emit as they burn, scientists can gather data about their composition, and by extension, their origin. Sure, it’s also possible to determine some of this information from Earth, but as Discover Magazine points out, “there is less atmospheric noise distorting spectra observations recorded in space.” Moreover, the high-tech camera the ISS crew set up is capable of discerning very fine grains of dust that wouldn’t otherwise be visible to us Earthlings.
There’s actually plenty of footage from the Perseids from the ISS, as the station orbits the globe a total of 16 times a day, making for plenty (nine hours, to be exact) of observation time.
So if you missed the meteor shower IRL, this footage may be better anyway.