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outdoors

Perseids about to put on a show

By Jonathan Fox
August 7, 2013

Every August, Mother Nature provides a meteoric display in the skies in the form of the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks in the early morning hours of August 12. Many stargazers consider the Perseids the best meteor shower of the year, in part because of the warm temperatures, ideal for star gazing, and the fact that many are on vacation, spending time in the great outdoors. Under ideal conditions—clear skies and minimal light pollution—this year’s shower is expected to provide up to 100 “shooting stars” per hour, beginning after sunset on the 11th, but building in intensity and number as the night gives way to the pre-dawn hours. With virtually no moon showing after 10 p.m., this year’s shower promises to be spectacular, and the nighttime sky in the Upper Delaware Valley is ideal for viewing.

The Perseids “begin as tiny speck of dust that hit the Earth’s atmosphere at 37 miles per second, vaporizing from friction with the air and leaving behind streaks of light we call meteors.” (www.astronomy.com) Even now, as Earth enters the stream created by the particles in the wake of the comet known as 109P/Swift Tuttle, observers can spot colorful “fireballs” that can appear as bright as Venus in the morning sky. Best observation is done without aid of telescopes or binoculars, since the meteors will appear to fill a large portion of the night sky.

While some civilizations have attached negative attributes to the fiery display, there are others that subscribe to the Disney-inspired theory that “when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.”

For more information about this and other meteor showers during the year, visit www.stardate.org.


Where and how to view:

The best viewing dates are August 11 and 12.

Avoid city lights; the farther out you are, the better your view will be.

The Perseids can be seen all over the sky, but the best viewing opportunities are in the pre-dawn hours after the moon has set.

With a keen eye, one will notice that the meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Perseus, which forms an inverted “Y” shape in the northeast.

Include the kids. Take a nap, set your clocks and get up after midnight (when the show really starts). Spread a blanket under the stars and make it a family affair.

Mankind has been observing the Perseids for nearly 2000 years, and superstitions abound. One early Christian idea was that the fireballs associated with the onset of the meteor shower were actually angels who had been turned away by God (www.helium.com).