See peak activity Aug. 11-12.
Easily the most well known and popular meteor shower of the year is now in session. The Perseid Meteor Shower isn’t the only strong shower in the night sky during the year but is the only one to fall in the warmth of Northern Hemisphere summer. This year (2019) we have a bright Moon, but it’s still worth a look. The shower peaks on Aug. 12-13 but is still quite strong for a few nights before and after.
On a really clear, dark night with a wide open sky, you may see more than 50 meteors an hour in the wee hours between midnight and morning twilight.
Full Moon arrives Aug. 15; between this weekend and then we have a waxing gibbous Moon. The waxing gibbous may leave us whining as it still floods the sky with moonlight and will hide all but the brighter meteors (and stars). The Moon sets later and later each night leading to full, giving a narrowing window of darkness in the hours before the light of dawn. If you go out on the morning of the Aug. 11 you will have about two hours of darkness; on the morning of the Aug. 12 this reduces to about an hour. At around 3 or 4 a.m. you can enjoy the stillness of the night and imagine you’re the only one out there looking up and enjoying the early morning stars. If your neighborhood was a cartoon you could imagine the long lines of ZZZZZs rising from the bedroom windows. Listen carefully- you might just hear not the snores but maybe the (hopefully) distant coyote, a chorus of crickets and peep toads or the hoot of an owl. Cast your sleep-deprived eyes heavenward; at this time of year and hour you’ll have a preview of late autumn evening stars and winter’s glorious Orion constellation climbing low in the east. Suddenly, it will seem like one of those twinkling stars just dropped from the heavens, without warning as a point of light races across the constellations. It’s a meteor. Sometimes still called a “shooting star” or “falling star,” realize this is rather a bit of space rock sept up by Earth’s gravity, vaporizing with a bright light as it rushes through our upper atmosphere. You may see it leave what appears like a smoke train in its wake. You can see meteors on any night of the year and there are dozens of concentrated meteor showers, but the Perseids can be among the most spectacular. Many are brilliant and classified as fireballs. They seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus, just below the W-shaped Cassiopeia constellation, which rises in the northeast art about 11:30 p.m. As the night progresses the radiant is higher in the sky and more meteors may be expected; look anywhere in the sky. You might see a few even before midnight, but even less this year given the Man in the Moon’s shiny countenance. If you can trace them back to the radiant, it’s a Perseid; stray meteors also may happen to cross the sky, from other directions. Some people like to close their eyes and wish on a falling star, but it’s a good way to miss them. It seems obvious, but please dress warm and wear a hat. Hot chocolate and a cookie or two may be in order. Bundle up in a sleeping bag and lay back on a lawn chair to save your neck, while you gaze for meteors. Watch with a friend or loved one, each facing a different direction. Make it a game and see who counts the most. Caution: Meteor watching takes patience; it may take a few minutes even on a dark night to see one, during a meteor shower. If you don’t see many meteors, at least enjoy the stars and the very adventure of being out there, you and the universe above. Keep looking up! Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.