Perseids: The Romantic Myth behind the Rain of Stars



From the scientific point of view, the Perseids are larger particles than a grain of sand. The phenomenon, known as Perseids, occurs when minute fragments of dust from the tail of Swift-Tuttle comet enter the atmosphere. The fireball then becomes a shooting star. The Perseids enter the atmosphere at a speed of 59 km/sec, much faster than the Geminids that hits at 35 km/second, so they are fast and are bright meteors although their size is very small.

These shooting stars are seen every year when the Earth passes through a dust cloud left by the passage of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which has a core of about 10 kilometers and whose last flyby across the Sun took place in 1992, while the next is expected in 2126.

The Perseids are named as such because they appear to be located just above the Perseus constellation. The first swarm of recorded Perseids observations were made by the Chinese in 36 AD. Once the peak time for the Perseids was placed around the beginning of August, but due to the precession of the equinoxes it has shifted over the centuries about few days forward. The peak visibility is then usually concentrated around mid August, with an average of about one hundred light trails observable to the naked eye from Earth every hour.

Their passage produces a spectacular luminous trail. Sometimes it happens that larger fragments than usual enters the atmosphere and the effect is the vision of a true fireball that is brighter than all the stars with a colored dot that moves in the sky releasing various colors, whose shapes and lengths persist for many minutes. To see the best view it is better to go at higher altitude, at least 100 kilometers from the city.

The best show you can observe is with the moon at sunset, after midnight, and to the northeast, between the constellation of Cassiopeia, W-shaped, and that of Perseus. In reality the stars are visible from the end of July and with the passage of time it moved to August.

Culturally, however, the shooting star has been drafted in a more poetic way and with myths and legends. But beyond the scientific explanation, the Perseids have always been linked with Greek mythology that add more romanticism to fit the evening.

One of the most common is that the sight of a shooting star makes a wish come true. In the Middle Ages, the streak of light caused by the fall of the stars has been associated with the journey of the dead and in other words was interpreted as an upward movement, downward or just change of place, made by the souls of the departed.

In Greek mythology, Perseus is the son of Zeus, who, in love with the nymph Danae, who had to metamorphose in order to enter the room where his beloved was held and begot his future offspring. The form chosen by the god was, precisely, a golden shower. Later, Perseus lived with the princess Andromeda, that is the constellation that is located to its side. He even saved her from a sea monster that was about to devour her.

In ancient Sparta, however, the vision of a shooting star had a political meaning and in fact every nine years the priests peered at the sky and the eventual fall of a star was interpreted as a negative sign from the gods against the king, who was deposed. The religious aspect, then, appears in different traditions.

In the literature of ancient India, the shooting stars are compared with a demonesses with a shabby hair and many believe with every shooting star, a soul descends to earth to be reincarnated. The ancient inhabitants of Iran, the Zoroastrian religion describe the malevolence of the shooting stars and their defeat at the hands of the god Sirius in the constellation Canis Major.

Iran's inhabitants believed that the life of the cosmos was dominated by contrasting the cosmic order and the truth and the principle of chaos and falsehood, the same opposition that is located in the Indian Vedas. The only god and guarantor of order was Ahura Mazda, whose antagonist was Angra Mainyu who had chosen the dark path and operated to disrupt creation, bringing death and destruction.

The Persians could not avoid making speculations on the celestial vault, since according to the Zoroastrian cosmology, the cosmic order is represented by the fixed stars, whose light is opposed to that of the Evil. These stars were regarded as minor deities and were placed in the lowest heaven, while the Sun and Moon were placed in the higher heaven, closer to paradise.

The messy and unpredictable movement of the shooting stars led the Zoroastrians to believe that they belonged to the ranks of the demonic forces hurled by evil forces. Thus the falling stars was assigned the name of witches. The task of defeating the witches and protecting the men was attributed to Sirius that with his accuracy in firing arrows against the stars led to escape of the demonic forces.

In ancient times there was a close link between astronomy and religion and almost all populations observed the sky and the stars. There was a task to which priests were devoted to draw omens and one of the most significant cases is that of the Chaldeans. Even among the Greeks, the Romans and the Celts priests interpreted the will of the gods by having recourse to astronomical observations. On the other hand, according to an old superstition, the appearance of the comet heralded extraordinary events, especially the birth and death of famous people, especially kings.

The Egyptians had a deep knowledge of the stars, and most of their religious beliefs came precisely from the worship of the stars. The worship of the Mother Goddess is probably nothing more than the evolution of adoration of the constellation of Virgo. In Roman times it was believed that the meteor shower was an auspicious rain of sperm of the god Priapus that with this gesture, fertilized fields.

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