While interest in the upcoming solar eclipse on Monday, August 21st continues to build, let’s not forget the wonders that await you on an August evening under the stars. Among these is the Perseid Meteor Shower, one of the very best of the year.
Moonlight will be bright this year, but you can still expect to see a good number of meteors, especially if you are looking late at night and from a wide open area. The shower of space dust and bits of rock peak on Saturday, August 12, but you can watch them as they build for several night before, and as the shower wanes for several night after. In other words, don’t miss a chance to look this week if you have a clear night, waiting for the 12th in hopes clouds will cooperate!
There are dozens of meteor showers you may observe throughout the year; some are very weak; a few are strong. Adding to the popularity of the Perseids is the fact they fall in the northern hemisphere’s summer, when nights may still be relatively mild.
On a dark, clear night, past midnight and from a wide open area, you may see around 80 an hour. You might see half that this year, under proper conditions. In 2017, Full Moon occurs August 7 and Last Quarter on August 14. The Moon, therefore, will be a waning gibbous this week, somewhat football shaped and still very bright. Look far away from the Moon, for the darkest part of the sky.
In reality, you could wait a few minutes to see one. It takes patience! Meanwhile, you can enjoy a quiet time under the stars; don’t use a telescope or binoculars to watch for meteors. It’s recommended to lay back in a lawn chair, well bundled up against the chill.
Meteors are more common after midnight because by that time as our Earth spins, we are on the side facing the incoming meteor stream, as our planet moves in its orbit and collides with the rocky particles. They race through the upper atmosphere, and become luminous, as they heat up.
Many of these meteors are fairly bright and leave a long, thin gray trail in their wake, which quickly dissipates.
Showers named for the constellation from which they seem to radiate, as the meteor stream collides wit Earth. Perseid meteors may be seen anywhere in the sky, but all can be traced backwards to their radiant in the Perseus constellation. This group of stars rises in the northeast around 11:30 p.m. in August. In the wee hours, with Perseus high up, many more meteors can be expected.
Some, however, can be seen before midnight, but your wait will likely be longer.
Observe with a friend or family member! Face in different directions to total the most meteors.
Rocks falling over our heads? Yes, that’s what they are. No helmets are needed, however. Most of these meteors are the size of a grain of sand, and vaporize long before they would reach the ground!
Keep Looking Up!
Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.