Aug. 18, 2021: 28 years ago, the Perseid meteor shower killed a satellite. On Aug. 11, 1993, a Perseid meteoroid hit the Olympus-1 telecommunications satellite, making it spin. The $850 million spacecraft was lost after it ran out of fuel trying to regain control. Many researchers blame a dense ribbon of comet dust now known as “the Perseid Filament.”
On Aug. 14, 2021, night skies over North America filled with meteors. P. Martin of Ottawa, Canada, reported “multiple Perseids per minute with many bursts, sometimes 3-4 in a second.” In San Diego, Robert Lunsford of the International Meteor Organization also witnessed rapidfire streaks, 2 to 3 at a time. “It made me realize something unusual was going on,” Lunsford says, “especially so far from the predicted maximum.”
To say that astronomers were surprised would be an understatement. The Perseid’s annual peak had occurred the night before. Most observers had already given up watching. Fortunately, a network of automated cameras operated by the Cedar Amateur Astronomers in Iowa captured the display. Overnight they recorded almost 3000 meteors.