Tag Archives: Perseids

How and where to watch the Perseids this year

The Perseids are taking place in this period, and this year promises to be an especially good one.

Astronaut Ron Garan photographed a streaking meteor (center) from on board the space station during the 2011 Perseid shower. (NASA)

Skygazers rejoice! Astronomers expect an outburst of Perseid meteors, with over 200 meteors per hour on peak night – double the usual rate. The peak is expected to today, on Friday night, and here’s what you should do to maximize the chances of seeing falling stars:

  • Do your reading (this one is really optional, but you can really get to know and appreciate what you’re seeing)

The Perseids are a prolific meteor shower associated with the Swift–Tuttle comet. They are called so because of the point where they appear to originate, in the Perseid constellation. The shower is visible from mid-July each year, with the peak in activity between 9 and 14 August, with slight variations from year to year.

“Here’s something to think about. The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago,” said Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Alabama. “And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.”

  • Use technology to your advantage

There are several apps you can use to find the Perseid constellation as well as other things. Astronomy apps can show you the position of several constellations, planets, and even the International Space Station. There are a few free apps you can use, as well as a few paid ones. I haven’t tried the paid ones, but SkyView Free seems to work fine, and is absolutely free. However, keep in mind that these apps may not always be reliable.

  • Check the weather

I know, this is a no-brainer, but do remember to check the weather. Most importantly, check the forecast for cloud coverage over your viewing spot. If it’s cloudy, your chances of seeing something go down dramatically.

  • Find the darkest place you can

Another simple thing, but it can make a huge difference. Light (especially city lights) can cover your vision. Go outside the city if possible, and if not just pick a dark place like a park. Try to also find a place with lots of visible sky, where trees or buildings don’t obscure your view.

  • Look up

I’m seriously on fire with the no-brainers. The key, however, is to not look directly up, but focus on an area between the horizon and directly up. In other words, focus your gaze halfway up from the horizon.

  • Go out after the Moon has set

The Moon is another source of light you want to avoid, so try to go out after it has set. Obviously, this time varies from place to place, but in America for example, that should be just after midnight today.

  • Know what to expect

I was surprised to see that many people were expecting huge fireballs in the sky. Obviously, this is not the case. Most meteors last only a few seconds, and while a few will be bigger and last longer, but for the majority, they’ll be small and quick. However, during showers, there’ll be plenty of them. There’s probably going to be one every few minutes, with 200 / hour during the peak!

  • Enjoy it

This is supposed to be a pleasant experience, so while a bit of planning helps, don’t make it a drag. Take some sandwiches, make a picnic and get some good friends along. Open a bottle of wine – why not? Enjoy the wonderful night and the dazzling astronomic display!

Perseid shower peaks this weekend [shorties]

NASA map shows the location of the northern sky where you can watch the Perseid shower in 2012.

In a previous post I was telling you how to make the most of the Perseid shower, and now, it’s time to make the most of that know-how.

Good news for sky gazers in America: drier air should move into the Mid-Atlantic along with decreasing cloud-cover, which will almost definitely make for a good viewing. If you have a good, cloudless, visibility, you can spot up to 80 meteors per hour during the peek of the Perseids. However, after this weekend’s peak, the meteor shower will quickly dwindle, ending likely by August 22.

In 2011, astronaut Ron Garan, Expedition 28 flight engineer, took this picture of a ‘shooting star from space’

How to make the most of the upcoming meteor showers

For people of the Northern Hemisphere (North America, Europe, Asia and a healthy chunk of Africa), late July and August is usually meteor viewing season; usually, the most spectacular displays take place during mid August – the Perseids, of course. This year, 2012, will be a fairly good but not spectacular one for meteor showers, as the Perseids coincide with a waning crescent Moon, which although spectacular, will mostly be a nuisance for perspective observers.

The meteor season

Typically, the second half of the year is filled with such meteoric activity, typically observable in the predawn hours, compared to evening, noon and night, due to the fact that during the night we are on the “trailing” side of Earth, due to the orbital motion through space.

Credit: Joe Rao

An interesting phenomena which can be observed is the radiant point; due to the fact that meteor shower particles are all traveling in parallel paths, and at the same velocity, they will all appear to an observer below to radiate away from a single point in the sky. The radiant point is caused by the effect of perspective, just like we see railroad tracks converging at a single vanishing point on the horizon when viewed from the middle of the tracks.

Of course, in order to ‘catch up’ with Earth, any meteoric particle must have a higher orbital velocity than our planet, but after midnight, the roles change, and any particle that lies along the Earth’s orbital path will enter our atmosphere as a meteor.

Viewing tips

Perseid fireball – via NASA

All you need, aside from your eyes, is a healthy amount of patience – you can do just fine without any equipment at all. Of course, taking a look at local meteorological conditions and predictions is a move you must make, in order to see if the sky is clear enough to allow a clear view of the meteor shower. The actual number of meteors an observer can see greatly depends on sky conditions.

Dark, moonless skies are best for observers, but even with a bright moon, an experienced viewer on a clear night will most likely go home satisfied. However, it’s best if your eyes get used to the darkness, which is why it’s best to go out at least 15 minutes before the expected meteor shower. After August 10, the moon will also diminish to a crescent phase and will become less of a disturbance to viewers.

Photo of a comet plummeting towards Earth's atmosphere taken from on-board the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Ron Garan. (c) NASA/Ron Garan

Stunning photos of the Perseid meteor shower

I was lucky enough this weekend to be away from the city and at an altitude of about 1800m, deep in the mountain side. The rare, clean atmosphere allowed for an uncanny view of the night sky, at least for an urbanite as myself, filled with the most distinguishable stellar bodies I’ve ever been granted to see. The whole experience was turn to gold as I found myself right in the middle of the annual Perseid meteor shower, which covered the firmament with shooting stars every few minutes or so. Actually, the International Meteor Organization recorded an average of 30 shooting stars an hour Friday morning, rising to 45 to 60 by Friday night and Saturday morning. And on top of everything, one had a bright full moon performing on the skyline stage as well.

Now, like I said, I had an incredible view which I’d love to re-edit as many times as possible, but can you imagine how the show must have been like from above the meteor shower, instead of beneath it. Well, astronaut Ron Garan surprised a shooting star with his camera in all its splendor as it was passing below the International Space Station, and like expected it’s nothing short of breathtaking.

Photo of a comet plummeting towards Earth's atmosphere taken from on-board the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Ron Garan. (c) NASA/Ron Garan

Photo of a comet plummeting towards Earth’s atmosphere taken from on-board the International Space Station by NASA astronaut Ron Garan. Click on photo for larger zoom. (NASA)

Wow, eh? My reaction exactly!

“What a ‘Shooting Star’ looks like #FromSpace Taken yesterday during Perseids Meteor Shower…” Garan tweeted from his Twitter account on Sunday, who is at the end of his six months tour on-board the ISS. Quite the finale it must have been for the American astronaut.

The Perseid meteor shower hits Earth every August, as a result of a myriad of debris filled with dust particles left over from the Swift-Tuttle comet. The meteors originate from the constellation Perseus, hence the name. The ice and dust particles, most sized like a grain of sand, while others comparable to peas or marbles, enter Earth’s atmosphere at 133,200 mph, plummeting in flames – none reach the ground.

Although, the Perseid meteor shower peaked on August 12, those of you who missed it due to weather or whatever other reasons shouldn’t fret since Perseids will be active till August 24, where you can glimpse at least 5-10 meteors per hour.

It’s time to dust off that telescope from the attic. What was your experience with the Perseids? Did any of you manage to take some photos? If so, please share – impressions and photos are welcome in the comment section below or on our facebook page.

Here’s some more stunning photos of the Perseids, this time taken from the ground.