Sunday, August 9, 2009

Perseid Meteor Shower August 12 - Tips and Links

Moon Venus Jupiter

The Perseid meteor shower is going to peak on August 12, 2009. I will be out around 11pm on the 11th and will likely go out again around 10pm or so on the 12th. It looks to be a nice clear sky in my area. Try to get out before the Moon shows up around midnight. I've collected some information to help you with your viewing.

Perseid meteors happen because the Earth is passing through the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle. The tiny little bits (meteoroids) hit our atmosphere at very high speed. The light streak you see is actually the air heating up from the high speed compression and heating.

Perseid meteors appear to radiate from the constellation of Perseus, duh. From my area in Minnesota, Perseus is located in the north eastern sky after midnight this time of year. Perseus is easy to find in the sky. Look north east and locate the "W" shaped group of stars. That is Cassiopeia. Perseus looks kind of like a lopsided "V" upside down just below Cassiopeia. Anyway, it really doesn't matter if you can find these constellations. Just look north easterly. Here is a map.

So, locating and looking north east is the most important thing to know to find the Perseids. The second most important thing is to get away from city lights. If you can get north of your city, without more cities north of you, you will be able to see far more meteors. I see meteors every now and then from my back yard and I'm in a northern suburb of St. Paul.

Another important part of meteor watching is to let your eyes adjust to the darkness. Get into a spot where you won't be bothered by street lights, automobile lights and other lights. It will take about 15-20 minutes for your pupils to dilate. If you have to use a flashlight, cover it with red plastic or something red (or use your red flashlight app on your phone or iPod). Red light won't ruin your night vision. You will still see some of the brighter meteors even if you can't get perfect night vision.

Get a comfortable chair and bring some layers to keep you warm. You might be surprised how chilly 70F is when you are sitting still in the middle of the night.

Sit back and relax. Simply scan the north eastern section of the sky. You will see brief flashes of light. Hopefully, we'll see some larger burst that last more than a couple seconds.

More about meteors:

What NASA says

Highlights from Sky and Telescope


Star Date Online

20 Things You don't Know About Meteors (this is an old article but the list is still valid)

A Select Article from Bad Astronomy

Photography Tips

Everything you ever wanted to know about meteors

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