Perceiving the Perseids
I’ve never seen a meteor shower. I tried to watch one last winter, but it was too cold and I was tired. I’ll be sure to avoid my past mistakes next time around.
Luckily, the next time is right around the corner. We are in the midst of the annual Perseid meteor shower. That’s right. Space dust is plummeting through the Earth’s atmosphere, right over our heads! OK, so space crap is always plummeting through Earth’s atmosphere, but this will be pretty.
The Perseid meteor shower is named for the constellation Perseus. The meteors appear as if they are radiating from that constellation, but in fact they are caused the debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet. Every year around early August the Earth passes through Swift-Tuttle’s orbit and the bits of rock fall through the Earth’s atmosphere, which results in a streak of light. That streak is called a persistent train. We’re not talking about a gentle sprinkling. The comet debris will be hitting the atmosphere at 200,000 kilometers per hour. Most of this rock and debris burn up in the upper atmosphere, but not all. Those that survive to hit the ground are called meteorites.
This weekend will be the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, although you can see it until August 24. What’s great about a meteor shower is that you don’t need any special equipment to enjoy it. To best view the Perseids, you should face the Perseus constellation which will lie low in the north-east, then look 45 degrees away. It’s also important to set up in camp in a good, dark area. A good test to make sure you’ve chosen a dark enough location is look for the Little Dipper. If you can see every star in that constellation, your eyes have adapted and it’s dark enough to see meteors.
Don’t forget the creature comforts. Bring a comfy chair and a blanket so you can stay cozy. Also, bug spray. Just trust me on this. Make sure to bring bug spray. If you’re really hard core, you can bring a red-filtered flashlight for reading star maps. Regular flashlights will ruin the night vision you worked so hard to cultivate. Don’t worry about bringing a telescope or binoculars. This is one of those astronomical events that you can see with your eyes.
Happy star gazing!
Featured image credit: Dominic’s pics