By Jesse Richuso
Thanks to everyone who attended Morehead’s July 21 skywatching session at Jordan Lake. I didn't make it out there, but I heard from my fellow educators that we had beautiful, clear skies and about 200 visitors, which is great! Skywatchers enjoyed views of Jupiter and the Moon through telescopes and practiced constellation identification.
Our next skywatching session is on Sunday, August 12 from 9 to 11 p.m., near the peak time of the Perseid meteor shower. Bring a blanket or a comfortable chair and enjoy the show! You can find more information about our skywatching sessions, including directions to the site, on the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center website
One of the most popular annual skywatching events, the peak of the Perseid meteor shower returns in mid-August. The 2007 shower reaches its maximum rate at about 1 a.m. EDT on August 13, and the best viewing time is between midnight and dawn.
The best place to watch any meteor shower is a dark location far away from city lights. While you can drive away from cities to avoid artificial light pollution from street lights and buildings, sometimes a natural source can ruin a good meteor shower viewing: the Moon. Fortunately, the Moon will be near its new phase on August 13, so it will not make an appearance in the night sky.
If you have excellent viewing conditions, you could see about 60 meteors per hour at the peak. More likely, under less than ideal conditions, you might see 20 to 30 per hour. If the weather does not cooperate on the peak night of the shower, try observing the night before or the night after. You won’t see quite as many meteors, but it should still be a worthwhile experience.
Meteor showers are named by the constellation from which the meteors seem to originate. On the night of August 12, the constellation Perseus will rise in the northeast after sunset and will get higher in the northeastern sky as the night goes on. There is no “best” direction to look for the meteors – they can appear just about anywhere in the sky. Looking up is better than looking near the horizon, though.
Also known as “shooting stars,” meteors are streaks of light in the sky that appear when debris gets vaporized while entering Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds. I won’t get too deep into the science involved, but if you’re interested, check out this article.
Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through patches of debris left behind by comets. For a 2007 meteor shower calendar, check out this website.
If you're interested in learning more about the night sky, I suggest you come see "Carolina Skies" at Morehead. It's our live show, with an educator who will lead you through the simulated night sky on our 68-foot dome. I'm presenting Carolina Skies on Friday, August 18 and Saturday, August 19, but all of our show presenters are excellent, so please come any time! Here's our current program schedule.
August 2007 Moon Phase Calendar
August 5: Last Quarter
August 12: New
August 20: First Quarter
August 28: Full
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