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home : news : local news August 21, 2017


8/12/2017
Perseid to soar across night sky
The Times photo by Petr Horálek, curtesy of Link Observatory.The annual Perseid Meteor Shower will be at peak visibility before dawn Sunday.
The Times photo by Petr Horálek, curtesy of Link Observatory.

The annual Perseid Meteor Shower will be at peak visibility before dawn Sunday.
By Sydney Allen


This weekend will act as an introduction to the upcoming solar eclipse, as hundreds of meteors light up the night sky during the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.

For weeks astrological enthusiasts and novices alike have been anticipating the annual Perseid meteor shower that lights up the night sky every August.

The Perseids are expected to arrive today, Saturday and Sunday, though some astronomers warn that the bright moon could dominate the sky on these nights, obscuring the light of the fainter meteors.

That's not to say the event will be a total let down. Stargazers will still be able to catch a glimpse of the show, they may just have to work a bit harder for it.

John Shepherd, chief science officer at the Link Observatory in Martinsville, advises astrological fans to get out of dodge and head for the country.

"Get as far away from city lights as you can get," Shepherd said. "Get a lawn chair, a chaise or blanket and lay on the grcund so you can get a good view."

For those who won't be able to seek out any especially secluded locations, the best course is to find a "moon shadow," a shadow cast by the glow of the moon, and enjoy the show. All viewers will want to make sure they can see as much of the sky as possible.

The shower will peak between Saturday night and Sunday morning. The best viewing hours for the meteors, and most other meteor showers, will be right before dawn, when the sky is at its darkest, though they will be visible all through the night.

Last year, in 2016, stargazers got a real treat as the sky was lit up by more than 200 meteors per hour during its peak.

Typically, viewers can see around 60-100 meteors an hour during peak time, though this year astronomers are expecting a rate of about 40-50 visible meteors per hour.

Meteors showers are made up of leftover remnants of ice and rock, that "boil off" a comet as it comes close to the sun. When that rubble comes into contact with our atmosphere it burns up and produces what we know as meteor showers.

The Perseids are remnants of the 17-mile-wide comet 109P, also known as Swift-Tuttle. Every summer the Earth enters the debris trail left by Swift-Tuttle and the debris hurtle through our atmosphere, burning up and creating a celestial light show.

The Swift Tuttle takes about 130 years to orbit the sun. It made its most recent pass by earth in 1992, though the remnants from that pass won't make their way into earth's atmosphere for another hundred years.

This year, Jupiter's gravity has tugged together streams from Swift-Tuttle passes in 1862, 1479 and 1079, meaning some of the meteors that will be burning up have been floating in space for more than 1,000 years.

Most meteors range in size from a grain of sand, to the size of a baseball. Sometimes you can even hear a sizzle and hiss as the ancient ice and rock burn up, hurtling toward earth at a whopping speed of over 130,000 miles per hour.

"Most people enjoy the ambience of the Perseids," Shepherd said. "The sights and sounds as the ice turns to steam and the rock burns up - you can hear it if it's very quiet."







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