Chas' Compilation

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

The 2012 Perseids Peak Tomorrow

Don't miss the Perseids on the starry night of August 12th
How can I best view the Perseids meteor shower?

The Perseids have been observed by humans for about 2000 years, with the earliest knowledge of their existence emerging from the Far East. It is one of the finest meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60-100 bright, fast, and colorful meteors per hour during their peak. This annual meteor shower is active from July 23 through August 22, and usually peaks on August 11 and 12.

Perseids is extremely consistent in its timing and can potentially be observable for several weeks in the summer sky, conditional on your whereabouts, lighting conditions, and weather. Meteor showers are commonly named after their radiant point, the perspective point in the sky from which the meteors appear to come from. In the case of Perseids, it is named after the constellation Perseus, which is positioned in approximately the same point in which the Perseids meteor shower appears to originate from.

While this summer spectacular appears to radiate from a constellation, they are actually caused by the Earth passing through the dust particles of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Each summer, Earth passes into a trail of dust left by this comet, and as a result, all the dust and debris burning up in our atmosphere, travelling at a very fast 132,000 miles per second (59 km/s), produces the spectacle known as the Perseids meteor shower, or what are popularly recognized as “shooting stars”. There's no danger to sky watchers, though. The fragile grains disintegrate long before they reach the ground.

While the meteors are certainly bright, they are typically not much larger than a grain of sand. However, as they travel at immense speeds, these tiny particles put on an impressive show. Due to the way the comet’s orbit is tilted, dust from the Swift-Tuttle falls on Earth’s northern hemisphere. Unfortunately, this leads to extremely low visibility for those in Australia, New Zealand, and portions of South America.

In 2012, the waning crescent moon occurring on August 12 will not have a negative impact on the visibility of the Perseids. Due to the lack of bright moonlight, the fainter meteors will not be concealed from view. It is advisable to observe the meteor shower during the predawn hours on the mornings of August 11, 12, and 13. With up to 60-100 meteors per hour predicted, observers may catch plenty of bright meteors streaking along in the light of the moon.

How do I know the sky is dark enough to see meteors?

If you happen to live near a brightly lit city, if possible, we recommend that you drive away from the glow of city light. After you’ve escaped the glow of the city, find a dark, safe, and possibly isolated spot where oncoming vehicle headlights will not occasionally ruin your sensitive night vision. Look for state or city parks or other safe dark-sites.

Once you have settled down at your observation spot, look approximately half way up the sky facing northeast. This way you can have the Perseids’ radiant within your field of view. Looking directly up at the sky or into the radiant is not recommended since this is just the point in which they appear to come from. You are more likely to see a trail when looking slightly away from this point. Looking half-way up into the sky will lead to the best show in the house!

     

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