The Perseid Meteor Shower Updated for 2012; Perseids, perseid meteors, perseids, Key Dates: August 12, 2012 and August 12, 2012; meteor; When to Watch; Where to Look in the Sky; Where to Watch From; How to Watch; What to Expect; Perseus
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The Perseid Meteors: Nature's Cosmic Fireworks
For several weeks in early August, Earth
will be bombarded by lots of extra-terrestrial debris. But you need
not worry most of it will be dust particles that burn up
in Earth's atmosphere as meteors. Indeed, August is the best time
to witness the meteor shower called the Perseid.
Parents can take
advantage of this opportunity to introduce their children to one of
the wonders of our solar system: shooting stars.
Or check out Jupiter Scientific's Virtual Astronomy page
for a "virtual" journey through the Universe.
When to Watch:
In 2012, the best time to observe the Perseids is from 1-5 am
during the mornings of Sunday, August 12 (Note that this is the night
that starts on Saturday, August 11).
If you do not want to watch during sleeping hours,
try observing on the evening of Saturday, August 11 and Sunday, August 12.
You should be able to see a handful of meteors if the sky is clear.
To see the best observation times in your location, see
meteor flux estimator.
This year, the Moon is a crescent that sets after midnight, and moonlight will not interfere too much with viewing.
Clouds prevent one from seeing meteors so that
if you are particularly keen in wanting to see the Perseids this year,
then adopt the following strategy: Try to watch during the night of August 11-12; If
clouds are present, then try for August 12-13.
If it is cloudy on both nights, you might want to check out the Aurigids that
peak on September 1.
Where to Look in the Sky:
The meteors will radiate from the constellation
Perseus, which, in North America, rises
in the evening in the northeast. You need not look in this
direction, however. The Perseids are noted for their long trails
and should streak across much of the night sky. Look anywhere
from 30 degrees to 80 degrees above
the horizon and about 45 degrees away from the constellation Perseus.
Where to Watch From:
The best place to observe meteors is in an open
area (a field, a golf course, etc.) that is unobstructed by
trees or other structures and that is far away from
lights (streetlights, city lights, etc.). The darker the sky
the better. Thin clouds or mist will greatly reduce the number
of meteors that one can see. If there are clouds, don't stay up.
How to Watch:
It is best to lie in a reclining chair. Otherwise, lie on a blanket
with a pillow. It is easy to get a stiff neck if one is sitting
vertically or standing. Bring a sweater just in case
it gets chilly. Don't
use binoculars or telescopes just gaze at the heavens with
your eyes. You
will see streaks of light shooting across the black sky. You
will see most meteors directly; but you will sometimes see others
out of the corner of your eye. If you are very lucky, you
will witness a fireball, a very bright meteor with a small disk. Some
fireballs break into several fragments.
What to Expect:
the Perseid provides amateur astronomers with a delightful natural display. With excellent
viewing conditions, you should see about one meteor
per minute at the peak! Even if you are not observing under
optimal circumstances, which is likely to be the case, you can expect to see
about 25 meteors per hour.
General Information about Meteors
Meteors are solar system material (dust,
grains, pebbles, rocks, etc.) that enters Earth's atmosphere and
burns up. Since, visually, meteors look like stars streaking across
the sky, they are commonly called "shooting stars." If a meteor
is sufficiently large, part of it may survive and strike the
Earth, in which case it is called a meteorite. Meteorites
provide astronomers with useful information about our solar
system. (The solar system consists of the Sun, the
planets and all the other objects in this region such as
comets and asteroids.)
Particularly prolific periods for meteors are called
meteor showers. They typically occur at specific times
of the year. The reason for this is simple. Certain regions
of our solar system have high concentrations of debris. Each
time the Earth passes through such a region during its
journey around the Sun, a meteor shower takes place. Many
of these meteoroid regions are created from the passing
of a comet. This is the case for the Perseids. Every year
in early August, Earth
enters a region of outer space with significant numbers
of meteoroids. This solar system debris has been created
by Comet P/Swift-Tuttle.
Morning is a better time for
observing meteors than evening
because the morning night sky faces the region of outer
space that the Earth is moving toward. Click
here to see a
picture of the situation.
For more information about meteors told in spiritual language, see
book of planetology of
The Bible According to Einstein.
(Comets, by the way, are bodies made of ices, dust and
rocks. When they approach the Sun, they melt somewhat. The
solar wind then blows material off the comet to create its
tail. Observationally, a comet near Earth looks like a hazy
ball with a long wispy tail. Comets are created in the Oort
cloud in the outer regions of our solar system when they
are knocked toward the Sun. For more information
about comets, see the
fourteenth book of
The Bible According to Einstein.)
This report was prepared by the staff
of Jupiter Scientific,
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