Star light Star bright first star I see tonight… One thing I love about camping and getting away from the city is looking up into the night sky and seeing the vast array of stars that populate the sky. I am always amazed by how bright and how MANY stars twinkle up there, but one of the more exciting things I love to look for are ‘shooting stars.’ And it looks like we are in for quite a show of shooting stars! One of USA Science and Engineering Festival partners, EarthSky, reminded us that the famous c that will be taking place this week. So take some time to look up at the night sky and look for a shooting star….or two.
More information on the meteor shower from our Festival partner:
The 2010 Perseid meteor shower – August’s famous ‘shooting stars’ – will peak in this coming week, on the mornings of August 12 and 13. The shower has been gradually rising to a peak since early August. Any night this week, you might see Perseid meteors.
The Perseids are considered by many people to be the year’s best shower. They often peak at 50 or more meteors per hour, and 2010 is a great year for watching them. This year, the slender waxing crescent moon will set at early evening, leaving a dark sky for this year’s Perseid display.
Remember, this is August 12 or 13 in the hours after midnight – not those evenings. The Perseids tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight, and typically produce the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn.
These meteors are often bright and frequently leave persistent trains. On the mornings of August 12 and 13, watch the Perseid meteors streak across this short summer night from midnight until dawn. Lie back and watch meteors until dawn’s light washes the stars and planets from the sky. The morning of August 11 may be good, too – in fact, this shower tends to rise gradually to a peak for about a week. Then it’s known to drop off rapidly after the peak mornings.
These typically fast and bright meteors radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus the Hero. But you don’t need to know Perseus to watch the shower. The meteors appear in all parts of the sky.
Tips for watching meteors
Most important: a dark sky. Here’s the first thing – the main thing – you need to know to become as proficient as the experts at watching meteors. That is, to watch meteors, you need a dark sky.
Know your dates and times. You also need to be looking on the right date, at the right time of night. For the Perseids, the best time is midnight to dawn on the mornings of August 12 and 13. But you might also see Perseids before those dates, since the shower builds to a peak gradually. Afterwards, it falls off rapidly. The nights before the Perseid’s peak are probably better for meteor-watching than the nights afterwards. Meteor showers occur over a range of dates, because they stem from Earth’s own movement through space. As we orbit the sun, we cross “meteor streams.” These streams of icy particles in space come from comets moving in orbit around the sun. Comets are fragile icy bodies that litter their orbits with debris. When this cometary debris enters our atmosphere, it vaporizes due to friction with the air. If moonlight or city lights don’t obscure the view, we on Earth see the falling, vaporizing particles as meteors.
What to bring. You can comfortably watch meteors from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: your back yard or deck, the hood of your car, the side of a road. If you want to bring along equipment to make you more comfortable, consider a blanket or reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, binoculars for gazing along the pathway of the summer Milky Way. Be sure to dress warmly enough. Even the summer nights can be chilly, especially in the hours before dawn when the most meteors should be flying.
Are the predictions reliable? Although some have tried to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain notoriously unpredictable. Your best bet is to go outside at the times we suggest, and plan to spend at least an hour reclining comfortably while looking up at the sky.
Remember, meteor showers are like fishing. You go, you enjoy nature … and sometimes you catch something!
Image Credit: A Perseid meteor from the 2009 shower, by Kevin Clifford (AP)