Tips from Chabot about sighting the Perseid Meteor Shower
on August 11, 2011
2012 Update: This article originally ran in 2011, and the meteor shower dates and times are different for 2012. This year, the meteor shower is expected to happen from August 11-13. While Chabot Space and Science Center is not hosting its “Slumber with the Stars” event this year, the telescopes will be open for regular viewing Friday and Saturday nights from 7:30 – 10:30 pm. More information is here. The rest of last year’s advice about how to spot a meteor shower remains the same and can be adapted for this year’s dates!
This weekend, skywatchers can turn an eye to the heavens for the yearly Perseid Meteor Shower, which should be visible late Friday and Saturday nights to viewers in North America.
“The annual Perseid meteor shower occurs near August 12, when the Earth travels through the dust left by Comet Swift Tuttle,” explains Robert Ade, spokesman for Chabot Space & Science Center in the Oakland hills. “The dust burns up in our atmosphere and appears as streaks of light — shooting stars! — in the dark sky. They are called the Perseid meteors because they seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus, the Greek hero who killed the Gorgon Medusa. In mythology, Perseus holds Medusa’s severed head, with her hair of snakes, in his hand.”
The observatory’s telescopes are open on Friday and Saturday nights, and members of the public can look through them for free, although Ade notes that the best method for meteor-watching is simply to go somewhere dark, open and fog-free. “Meteor showers are best seen with your glorious naked eyes,” he says. “Even our majestic and historic telescopes aren’t used to see meteor showers because they only look at a small section of the sky. A wide field of view is best, and meteor showers are best seen near the dawn in the darkest place available.” (Astronomers consider pre-dawn viewing the best, because the face of the Earth that is spinning towards the sun tends to attract more meteors, which means a livelier light show.)
Additionally, this year  the light from the waxing moon may make the meteor shower hard to see. So even though the shower’s peak is predicted to arrive on Friday, August 12, 2011, at about 11 pm Pacific Coast Time, Ade suggests waiting for the moon to set before heading out to watch. “Early Friday and Saturday morning, after the near full moon has set around 3 am, look to the northeast about 50 degrees up from the horizon. (Directly overhead is 90 degrees above the horizon, so about half of that.) 30-50 meteors per hour should be visible. We recommend dressing warmly, and lying in a comfy lounge chair with your favorite beverages and snacks,” he says.
Photo of meteor courtesy NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via Flickr Creative Commons.
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