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Perseid Meteor Shower - Fireworks in the Sky

This article appeared in the August 10, 2018 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

Perseid Meteor Shower - Fireworks in the Sky

A Perseid meteor. Photo by Jared Tennant.

By Vinita Domier

Special to the Enterprise

 

The annual Perseid meteor shower will be ideal for viewing on Sunday, August 12/13 night. The crescent moon, just a day after new moon, will be setting before it gets dark, thereby permitting spectacular views of the celestial fireworks for observers with clear views of the sky. For local observers, however, smoke may obscure dimmer meteors.

 

Perseid meteor shower consistently provides good viewing of “shooting stars” during warm summer nights for Northern observers from July 17 – August 24, with peak activity occurring around August 12 when 60 – 100 meteors per hour can be seen under ideal viewing conditions of dark skies and the moon below the horizon. Many of the meteors streak across the sky in long and colorful trails.

 

Meteors are often mislabeled as shooting or falling stars. Astronomically speaking, meteors are the luminous streaks in the earth’s atmosphere caused by debris particles that have fragmented from comets or asteroids. When in space, the particles are called meteoroids; and if any parts survive their fiery forays through the earth's atmosphere and land on the surface, they are known as meteorites.

 

As meteoroids enter the earth's upper atmosphere from interplanetary space at high speeds, they are vaporized due to friction with the air molecules. The resulting light caused by the glowing ions form visible trails and streaks of different colors depending on the chemicals in the debris particles and the atmospheric gases.

 

Most meteor showers occur when the revolving Earth passes through a stream of debris left in the wake of a comet during its perihelion (closest approach to the sun). Some of the comet's gases vaporize, carrying dust and tiny fragments, and these particles continue to orbit around the sun in the same orbit as the parent comet. When the Earth goes through the point in space where the orbits intersect, it results in a meteor shower. Perseid meteor shower is attributed to the periodic Comet 109P/Swift-Turtle.

 

There are eight major meteor showers that occur annually. Even though meteors have real parallel motions and are visible anywhere in the sky, their apparent direction of motion is away from a specific area in the sky called the radiant. Each shower is named after the constellation or bright star from which the meteors appear to radiate.

 

Perseid meteor showers radiate from Perseus constellation. The best times to see meteor showers are between midnight and sunrise because the radiant is higher in the sky.

 

No special equipment is needed to enjoy the Perseids. All you need to watch these fireworks in the sky are clear dark skies with unobstructed view from horizon to horizon.

 

Lie down on a reclining chair or blanket, point your toes north-eastward, and look in all directions. Also bring insect repellent and a red-filtered light or a flashlight in a paper bag, and make sure to keep warm.

 

There is also a wonderful line-up of planets to view in the August night sky: Venus (setting at 9:50pm), Jupiter (setting at 11:40 pm), Saturn (setting at 2:38 am), and Mars (setting at 4:24am). Happy viewing!

 

Be sure to join Explorit and the Davis Astronomy Club to view the Perseid meteor shower on Sunday, August 12 at Fairfield Elementary (26960 Co Rd 96), 7:00-10:00 p.m. This event is free and open to the public, but donations to help cover the cost of facilities rental are gratefully accepted.

 

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Explorit’s coming events:

 

  • Visit our Feathers exhibition! Explorit’s Exploration Gallery is open to the public every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m.  Admission is $5.00 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free.

 

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Explorit Science Center is located at 3141 5th St. For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org, or “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb.
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