It's time for the Perseid meteor shower | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

It's time for the Perseid meteor shower

Skywatcher's delight

Posted: August 9, 2012 - 8:46pm

Staying up late has its perks, especially this weekend when the celestial offering is a shower of fireballs blazing across the night sky.

So on a warm summer night with a slight southerly breeze, get out the blanket or the lawn chair and get ready for the annual show. The mosquitoes will have gone to bed and the skies should be at least partly clear to view the streaming meteors.

The Perseid meteor shower is expected to peak between 10 p.m. Saturday and 2 a.m. Sunday.

The great thing about the Perseids is the ability to view the fireballs with the naked eye. Even in north Brainerd with competition from city lights, the meteors are visible. But the best viewing is typically away from city lights. NASA reports the Perseids may come as fast and furious as 100 per hour turning the night sky into a glowing Etch a Sketch as meteors streak white across the dark.

Take a laptop, tablet or smartphone and tap into an opportunity to chat live with astronomer Bill Cooke and a team from the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. The group will answer questions about the Perseid meteor shower in an “Up All Night” live chat. A live video and audio feed will also be embedded on NASA’s website at

http://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/perseids_2012.html.

The iPad app Star Walk also provides an incredible option to see the night sky and view the constellations. It even shows where the International Space Station is in the night sky and provides more information on various orbiting satellites. The app shows where the Perseids originate in the northern portion of the constellation Perseus, which is where they’ll appear to shoot from.

“The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years,” NASA reports. “Each year in August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet’s debris.

“These bits of ice and dust — most over 1,000 years old — burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year.”

Meteors have already been visible streaking across the black sky in the days leading up to the peak shower period.

Texas-based EarthSky reports as an “added treat” — on Saturday, Sunday and Monday — the moon will be sweeping past the brightest planets Venus and Jupiter in the eastern predawn sky.

As for the shower itself, EarthSky understands the meteor viewing goal and wishes for clear skies.

“You want to see as many meteors as possible,” EarthSky reports. “You want to see the sky rain meteors like hailstones at an apocalyptic rate. You want exploding fireballs, peals of meteoric thunder, celestial mayhem.”

Amen.

The American Meteor Society reports the meteors will be visible as soon as it’s dark on Friday — at a rate of about five per hour, but that rate will climb as the night wears on and climb to the peak time late Saturday into Sunday.

The American Meteor Society recommends getting comfortable in a lounge chair as there may be no activity for five minutes at a stretch and then 10 meteors will suddenly appear in the same time span.

“Really serious folks will hop in the car and head for dark skies away from the city,” Robert Lunsford wrote for the American Meteor Society. “This will certainly increase the activity you will see as the fainter meteors become visible. If you are really crazy, then you will count the number of Perseids you see each hour and report it to other crazy people like us at the AMS. It may be crazy, but it is fun to watch nature’s fireworks.”

So stay up, or set the alarm and get up early or at least during the meteor shower’s peak performance. The show is worth it.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.