If you can get away from the city lights this weekend, conditions are perfect to view the annual Perseid Meteor shower that is expected to peak Sunday night and into Monday morning, August 12th and 13th. Because we will be experiencing a new moon this weekend, there will be no moonlight to interfere with the spectacular show as meteors streak across the sky. And as an added bonus, Mars will be visible as a bright red spot in the northeastern sky.
The Perseid meteors produce one of the favorite shows of the year, because of their predictability in appearing each August. They get their name from the constellation Perseus because the meteors appear to originate there. However, their real source is the debris thrown off by Comet Swift-Tuttle. As the earth’s orbit crosses the path of the comet this time each year, we are treated to this fabulous show as tiny particles of debris enter our atmosphere and burn up to provide a display of “shooting stars”.
A meteor shower doesn’t take any special equipment to view other than the naked eye. And since the Perseid meteors can be seen from any direction in the sky, you can just pick out any dark patch of sky free of light pollution, and wait for the meteors to appear. At the peak, astronomers estimate that as many as 60 meteors an hour could streak across the sky.
So this weekend, make a hot thermos of coffee, set up your lawn chairs with a good view of a section of dark sky, and enjoy the show. The meteors will still be visible for a few days after the peak this weekend… but if you want to see the main event, it will be worth it to lose a couple hours of sleep on Sunday night.
OTHER 2007 METEOR SHOWERS
If you do happen to miss this weekend’s show due to cloud cover (or a really strong desire to sleep), there are some additional opportunities for meteor viewing coming up before the end of the year:
Alpha Aurigids: September 1, 2007
The Alpha Aurigids are an annual shower, but usually a minor or irregular one. Some years however they have produced a memorable show, and astronomers predict such a show for 2007 with dozens of bright meteors per hour. Unfortunately, this year the moon will be bright and unavoidable during this timeframe. And based on this short-lived shower’s position on the horizon, will be most visible only in western North America and Hawaii, with its peak expected at approximately 4:37am PDT.
Orionids: October 21, 2007
The Orioinids may be visible anytime between October 17-25, but are expected to peak on October 21st. The moon will be waxing, but will set early during the first part of the shower and will allow for more dark-sky time. Orionids are fast meteors, and perhaps a bit faint on average but capable of producing large fireballs. Any clear morning during the scheduled activity time will be a good time to try and spot these meteors.
Leonids: November 18, 2007
There should be minor interference from the moon for the Leonids’ appearance this year. However their best activity will be viewed in the predawn hours of Sunday, November 18th as opposed to late Saturday night. No unusual activity is expected out of this shower this year, and only 5-15 meteors should be expected per hour.
Geminids: December 14, 2007
The Geminids are a beautiful, active, and reliable shower, and should be most visible on Friday, December 14th from midnight until morning twilight. As long as the skies are clear, the Geminids can put on quite a show with as many as 100 meteors per hour. This shower is also viewable from many Southern Hemisphere locations, and the crescent moon expected on this evening should set fairly early and provide minimal interference.