Perseids 2010!

6 08 2010

The spectacular Perseids meteor shower is almost upon us!  This year the best rates for the American continent will occur on the morning of Friday, August 13.

Remember last year? I told you all about the really good rates, but even I didn’t go out for more than a casual look.  Most likely, neither did you.  We had a glaringly bright full moon that just made observing near impossible!  This year the rates are still high; and — good news, everyone! — there’s no moon to worry about.

The meteors within this shower were shed from comet Swift-Tuttle, which passes across Earth’s orbit every 135 years.  The last time it was here was 1993 when observers in Europe saw 200-500 meteors/hour!  We won’t get nearly that number this year, but the rates will still be substantial.  And with the peak occurring just two days after new moon, the only thing keeping you from seeing a smattering of your own Perseids will be the weather.

The Perseids will be falling all night with an expected rate of 60 meteors/hour.  Remember that as with most meteor showers, you will sometimes go for 5-10 min. without seeing a thing, then four or five will zip across the sky all at once!  As the evening turns toward deepest night, the rates will increase dramatically; and near dawn you can expect almost 120 meteors/hour.  Remember that the farther north you are, the higher the radiant will climb and the more you’ll be able to see.  But also the farther north you are, the sooner night turns into day.  So those living around 30 – 35 degrees north latitude (MY latitude!) probably get the best overall show.

So set aside some time Thursday night to relax outside with a reclining lawn chair and some bug repellent.  You don’t want another year getting by without watching this ancient event.  It’s really special.

Most folks, like yourself, only want to lay back and see how many they can count.  What a serious observer like me would do is take good notes and file a detailed report with one of the major meteor organizations.  (how nerdy am I?)  But there *is* a group in Britain trying to get the public to help them gather data by using Twitter.  I have a bit of a problem with this as I would prefer people to not take their eyes off the sky long enough to punch characters on their phones.  Also, unless your phone has a deep-red-only display, you’ll kill your night vision the moment you look at the screen.  But… maybe it’s a worthwhile effort.  And if we can get a bunch of people actually interested in looking beyond just the pretty and trying to contribute some real science — well, who am I to complain?

Here’s their warm-up video.  It’s a little on the “sensational” side, but awesomely entertaining!

[You gotta watch it fullscreen!]

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