As this is being written, Perseid meteors likely are streaking through someone’s sky. The peak of one of the strongest and most popular meteor showers of the year is here.
Perseid meteors put on a good show for about a week before and after the August 12-13 height. This is a very good year for them in that the New Moon falls on August 11, giving dark, moonless nights.
Remember these tips: The later at night you look for them, the more you are apt to see; pick an area away from manmade lights and is well open to the sky. Dress warm and use a reclining chair for maximum comfort. Bring bug spray and a hot drink. A cookie helps. Also: This is one of the few areas of astronomy that if you have a telescope or even binoculars, you don’t want to use them! Meteor watching is done by eyes alone, or sometimes with a camera taking a long exposure. What a great time to take the family camping!
Perseid meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus, which is low on the horizon in early evening. Because of this, some meteors will be seen early, as long streaks as the meteors graze the atmosphere. You can expect to see many more, however, as the sky turns and the radiant rises high in the northeast late in the evening and into the morning.
Meteors seen near the radiant will be short and slow. Those seen far from this part of the sky will appear long and faster. Perseid meteors usually are bright, leaving in its wake a long thin gray trail, which disappears quickly. Under ideal conditions it is possible to count as many as 50 or 60 an hour, or one a minute on average.
The writer has enjoyed many years of Perseid meteor watching. One night, back in the early 1970’s, the sky was clear and dark but something bright came in the sky that took some attention away from the meteors. A beautiful display of Northern Lights broke out, with a shimmering colorful display of curtains, arcs and streamers. Once you see this you will never forget it, but the trick is, you have to go outside and look up!!
Of course there are many other meteor showers through the year and any night you may see meteors, some which are strays. Be careful with them. Once you start feeding them you never get rid of them.
Stray meteors, actually, are wayward bits of space rock not associated with a known shower. For all we know they may have originated in a planet that broke up in a far away solar system, traveled thousands of light years only to make a fiery finale over your backyard. Meteor showers are left overs from a disintegrating comet or asteroid.
The Perseid meteor shower, which is one of many that return throughout the year, is associated with Comet Swift-Tuttle which has spread its debris (littering??) along its orbit.
Most meteor showers are weak (meteor sprinkles??). The Perseids, and the Geminid shower in December, are two of the best. Rarely, we have a meteor "storm" which hundreds, even thousands an hour. The Leonid shower in November, usually weak, fell as a "deluge" in 2000.
While you are out be sure to look for Mars, which is bright and reddish, low in the southwest in early evening and due south around midnight. Saturn, bright but a little less so and yellowish, is in the south in late evening; Jupiter, bright as Mars and white, is to the right of Saturn, in the south in the evening; Venus, white and much brighter, is visible in evening twilight in the west.
The writer would love to have a report if you see any meteors this week!
Keep looking up!