Greg Redfern, WTOP
UPDATE 08/11/13. 12:25 p.m. EDT:
The weather may cloud us out in the WTOP viewing area for tonight’s Perseid Meteor Shower. Our best bet is to check the sky to see whether it is clear when we want to go out to look for Perseids. Monday may be the better night; we will just have to see.
If it is cloudy either night, you can still observe the Perseid Meteor Shower by a very novel and cool means.
As I write this I am listening to meteor radar – yes, radar that scans for incoming meteors as well as satellites and space debris. It is a fascinating way – just heard one!! – to monitor a meteor shower like the Perseids. Essentially, the louder a ping is, the brighter the meteor would be in the sky.
You can listen during the day and night, so tune your browser to http://spaceweatherradio.com to listen in just like you would go out to watch.
Good hunting, clear skies or not!
It’s the time of summer when the sky provides a celestial shower to delight campers and city-dwellers alike.
Sunday night into Monday morning before dawn, and Monday night into Tuesday before dawn, is the peak time for the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. Each year at this time, our planet encounters a debris stream of cometary dust made by Comet Swift-Tuttle. As Earth moves in its orbit around the Sun, it collides with this debris stream and the dust particles hit our atmosphere to become shooting or falling stars.
Traveling at 37 miles per second, these cometary bits hit the atmosphere 60 miles up and heat the atmosphere white-hot – that’s what we see. Usually the size of a grain of sand these bits can also be as big as a pebble or a little larger. Speed plus size makes for a lot of oohhs and aahhhs while we watch the Perseids through the night.
Research by NASA has determined that of the dozen or so annual meteor showers, the Perseids produce the largest number of fireballs or meteors that are as bright or brighter than the planet Venus.
The best place to see the Perseids is somewhere away from lights and obstructions such as trees and buildings. If you are a city dweller, you still may see the brightest Perseids as long as you are not staring into a street light or nestled in amongst tall buildings. The view of the Perseids from the suburbs is worth it as long as you minimize lights and obstructions as best you can. Out in the country or along the beach – where people usually vacation this time of year – is the best place to be.
You do not need any equipment or know-how to enjoy the show – just find a place where you can put a lounge chair or blanket to see the sky. Starting at 11 p.m. in the northeast, Perseus, the constellation for which this meteor shower is named, hangs low above the horizon and will rise higher as the night progresses. A meteor that is part of the shower can be traced back to Perseus. Sporadic meteors that are not part of the shower can be seen during the night as well.
The shower should improve after midnight, and from a dark sky possibly 1-2 meteors per minute can be spotted.
The key to watching the shower is being comfortable. The Perseids can appear anywhere in the sky but looking straight up gives you the widest viewing area – this is where the lounge chair or blanket come in handy.
Enjoy the shower with family, friends or your significant other. Some music, food and beverages are an added plus.
Learn more about the Perseids as I discuss the shower with Fox 5.
Good hunting and enjoy the sky show!
See The Sky This Week at Sky and Telescope.