Saturday, August 8, 2015

UPDATED: Sky Guy Viewing ALERT! The Perseid Meteor Shower

Hey Space Placers!


NASA to host Perseid Meteor Shower Segment.

Here is the latest on the Shower.

The year’s best meteor shower, the Perseids, is happening now with the peak predicted to occur on the night of August 12-13, Wednesday into Thursday. With the Moon out of the sky and the peak expected to be centered on 4 a.m Thursday morning an observer with a good (read dark and unobscured) location could see 60-100 meteors - falling stars - an hour.

Annie Yu, Mike Thomas & I on the Fox 5 Set 
Credit: Dianne Murphy
APR Public Relations Consultant
Dinamic Communications

Each year at this time our planet encounters a debris stream of cometary dust made by Comet Swift-Tuttle. As Earth moves in its orbit around the Sun it collides with this debris stream and the cometary debris particles hit our atmosphere to become “shooting or falling stars”. 

Traveling at 37 miles per second (133,000 miles per hour) these cometary bits hit the atmosphere 80 miles up and heat the atmosphere white hot which is what we see. Usually the size of a grain of sand they can also be as big as a pebble or a little larger. Speed plus size makes for a lot of “oohhs and aahhhs” while we watch the Perseids through the night.  Research by NASA has determined that of the dozen or so annual meteor showers the Perseids produce the largest number of fireballs or meteors that are as bright or brighter than the planet Venus. Last year the Full Supermoon and less than clear weather inferred with the Perseids.

The DMV has a truly perfect location to watch this “fun for the whole family” celestial spectacle - our very own Shenandoah National Park (SNP).  The National Park Service at Shenandoah National Park is going to have a Park-wide “Perseids Star Party” at three separate locations - Dickey Ridge Visitor Center lawn (mile 4.6 on Skyline Drive), Big Meadows (mile 51), and Loft Mountain amphitheater (mile 79.5).

As noted in the SNP Press Release:

At Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and Loft Mountain amphitheaters, the evening will begin at 9 p.m. with a 30-minute presentation about the Perseids and dark night skies. Rangers and volunteers from local astronomy clubs will provide constellation tours and opportunities to view the night sky through telescopes. Rangers and volunteers will be on site until 11 p.m., but visitors are welcome to stay longer to continue to view the meteor shower, which will peak before dawn.

At Big Meadows, starting at 9 p.m., Greg Redfern will present The Perseids, Falling Stars at Shenandoah National Park in the Byrd Visitor Center auditorium (mile 51). He will discuss the Perseid meteor shower, meteor showers in general, and the basics of photographing Shenandoah National Park’s night skies. Rangers and volunteer astronomers will provide telescope viewing and constellation tours near the Rapidan Fire Road gate at Big Meadows. Rangers and volunteers will be on site until 11 p.m.

Park visitors are welcome to stay longer to see the Perseids at these three locations and I will be at Big Meadows until dawn. 

You do not need any equipment or know how to enjoy the show - just find a place where you can put a lounge chair or blanket to see the sky. Starting at 11 p.m. in the northeast the constellation for which this meteor shower is named - Perseus - hangs low above the horizon and will rise higher as the night progresses. 

Credit: Sky &
A meteor that is part of the shower can be traced back to Perseus. Sporadic meteors that are not part of the shower can be seen during the night as well.

The shower should improve after midnight and Perseids can appear anywhere in the sky but looking straight up gives you the widest viewing area - this is where the lounge chair or blanket come in handy. 

If you are a city dweller you still may see the brightest Perseids as long as you are not staring into a street light or nestled in amongst tall buildings. The view of the Perseids is worth it from the suburbs as long as lights and obstructions are minimized as best you can.

If you can’t make it to the Park you can still observe the Perseid Meteor Shower by a very novel and cool means.

As I write this I am listening to meteor radar - yes radar that scans for incoming meteors as well as satellites and space debris. It is a fascinating way - just heard one!! - to monitor a meteor shower like the Perseids. Essentially the louder a ping is, the brighter the meteor would be in the sky.

You can listen during the day and night, so tune your browser to to listen in just like you would go out to watch.

Enjoy the shower with family, friends or your significant other. Some food and beverages are an added plus. Be sure to have extra clothing as it can get cool at night. You can book a room and enjoy fine dining at the Park if you want to make a full day and night of it.

Sky Guy in VA

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