Thursday, August 10, 2017

Have You Seen The Perseids Tonight?

Perseid shower time lapse, August 2009                                           NASA/JPL

The Perseid meteor shower returns this week! It's both the most reliable shower of the year and one that produces the most fireballs. Best viewing will be after midnight on the nights of August 11 and 12. A waxing moon will make for somewhat better viewing on August 12. With clear and dark skies you should easily see 60-70 meteors per hour. The good news is you don't have to be up just before dawn to see the fireballs. They are random meteors, brighter than the planets Jupiter and Venus, and often traveling longer arcs across the sky. One of the most spectacular fireballs I ever saw cut across at least 120 degrees of steel blue sky about half an hour after sunset. One never quite knows what to expect when you watch the sky.

Viewing is easy and best in the Northern Hemisphere. If the night is clear, take a lounge chair or blanket and bug spray outside between midnight and dawn and look into the northeast sky. In that sky you'll see a lopsided "W" known as the constellation Cassiopeia, an easy marker for its neighbor, Perseus. As you might guess, the meteors radiate from this point, but it's important to note that they may occur anywhere in the sky dome. Furthermore, you will likely see some random meteors that will not fit the pattern. Don't bother with a telescope, but you may enjoy binoculars for exploring deeper into space when the meteor watch gets a tad boring. 

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