We’ve shared this before, but Space.com has an interesting story about how the upcoming Perseid Meteor shower (peak August 11-13) came to be known as “The Tears of St. Lawrence” and also some of the science behind this annual August sky show:
Laurentius, a Christian deacon, is said to have been martyred by the Romans in 258 AD on an iron outdoor stove. It was in the midst of this torture that Laurentius cried out: “I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other.”
The saint’s death was commemorated on his feast day, Aug. 10. King Phillip II of Spain built his monastery place the “Escorial,” on the plan of the holy gridiron. And the abundance of shooting stars seen annually between approximately Aug. 8 and 14 have come to be known as St. Lawrence’s “fiery tears.”
…We know today that these meteors are actually the dross of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Discovered back in 1862, this comet takes approximately 130 years to circle the Sun. With each pass, it leaves fresh debris — mostly the size of sand grains with a few peas and marbles tossed in.
Every year during mid-August, when the Earth passes close to the orbit of Swift-Tuttle, the bits and pieces ram into our atmosphere at approximately 37 miles per second (60 kps) and create bright streaks of light.
Also check out Earthsky for more including diagrams and viewing tips for this shower that will be visible for the next couple of weeks.