Tag Archives: Perseid Meteor Shower

CNYO Brochure – A Guide To Meteor Showers

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

In preparation for upcoming 2013 lecture and observing sessions, we have put together instructional brochures to help introduce the Night Sky to attendees. The fourth of these, entitled “A Guide To Meteor Showers,” covers the whens and whys of meteor shower observing and is provided below in PDF format. This brochure will be available at our combined lecture/observing sessions, but feel free to bring your own paper copy (or the PDF on a tablet – but have red acetate ready!).

Download: A Guide To Meteor Showers (v4)

NOTE: These brochures are made better by your input. If you find a problem, have a question, or have a suggestion (bearing in mind these are being kept to one two-sided piece of paper), please contact CNYO at info@cnyo.org.

2013may1_htnsm_pg1

2013may1_htnsm_pg1

A Guide To Meteor Showers

The Year’s Notable Meteor Showers

A list of all 12 familiar meteor showers, their radiants, their origin, and their time of year.

Meteoroid, Meteor, Or Meteorite?

“One piece of interstellar debris, three different names that tell you something about the “state” of the object (1) as it exists in space, (2) as it slams into our atmosphere, and (3) as it hits the ground if it’s big enough to survive entry.”

A Lot From All Over – And Very Fast

“Meteor showers are the most predictable times to see debris falling from space, but an estimated 40 tons* of space dust falls on Earth EVERY DAY.”

Meteor Showers Vs. Random Meteors

“As you can’t predict their location or direction, you simply have to be looking at the right place at the right time!”

What’s In A Name?

“The meteor shower itself has nothing to do with the constellation or the stars, only the part of the sky that the constellation occupies on the late nights and early mornings when the meteor shower is visible.”

Clash Of The Tinys

“It is the Earth, revolving around the Sun at a dizzying 110,000 km/hour (that’s 30 km/second!), that powers the meteor shower we see on the ground.”

A Snapshot Of A Meteor Shower

“What we see as a meteor shower is actually surface material from a Solar System body!”

Preparing For A Meteor Shower

“A reclining chair or blanket – the best view is straight up, so save your back and clothes.”

For Much More Information…

“The peak times given in this brochure are only general estimates, as the best times for each shower vary by one or more days each year.”

About The Perseid Meteor Shower (“Perseids” For Short)

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

This article has been posted in preparation for our Perseid Session and International Starry Night event at Baltimore Woods this coming Monday, August 12th (with the 13th as the weather-alternate). We might even get a view or two of the Perseids at our Thursday, August 8th Beaver Lake Nature Center lecture!

The Perseid Meteor Shower is an almost perfect combination of location and timing for amateur astronomers and the general public, as the Earth grazes a rich debris field from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle during the peak of the Northern Summer. We’ll cover the details of this confluence below so you know what makes the Perseids the most anticipated (and observed) meteor shower of the year.

One Thousand And Thirty Words (And Two Numbers)

Comedian: “Ask me what the key to comedy is.”
Assistant: “What’s the -”
Comedian: “Timing!”

2013august3_swift_tuttle_orbit_v2

The image above shows all of the important pieces of the Perseid puzzle. We find the Earth in its orbit around the Sun as it approaches a mid-August position (the 10th to the 14th, although one may see meteors at the fringe of Perseid territory several nights before and after) that finds Earth (and us) scraping against the edge of a debris field produced by Comet Swift-Tuttle on its 133-year orbit around the Sun. Last seen in our vicinity in 1995, observers will have to wait until the 2120’s for another good view of its flaring core. Fortunately, it leaves enough tiny pieces of itself as it draws close to the Sun to provide us with a brilliant reminder of its existence every mid-August.

Unlike Halley’s Comet, which passes close to Earth’s orbit on its way toward (producing the Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower in early May) and away from (producing the Orionid Meteor Shower in late October) the Sun, Comet Swift-Tuttle’s eccentric orbit finds it passing close to Earth only at one point, like a snapshot capturing a hula-hoop (Swift-Tuttle’s orbit) as it touches the belt buckle (Earth) of a gyrating dancer whose waist is Earth’s orbit in circumfrence.

What’s In A Name?

We refer to this meteor shower as the “Perseids” because the meteors associated with Swift-Tuttle appear to streak across the sky from a point (known as a “radiant“) originating in the direction of the mythical constellation Perseus. The shower itself has nothing to do with the stars of the constellation Perseus, only the part of the sky that Perseus occupies on the late nights and early mornings in mid-August. One might even consider Perseus the beneficiary of this shower, as the constellation has taken on a new-found importance to astronomers over the last several millennia as the marker for this shower in the August skies.

It’s All Relative

Anyone caught driving late at night during a snow storm knows the sensation of making the Millenium Falcon’s “jump to lightspeed” as the snowflakes appear to shoot towards, then past or onto, your windshield. To the driver cruising at 65 mph on a highway, the snowflakes appear to have no motion but the one directly towards the windshield. If you were standing on a snowflake, you’d notice the very slow decent to the Earth’s surface, the rapidly oncoming car headlights, then the swift rush across the windshield as the aerodynamics of the windshield combined with the high speed of the car.

2013august3_lightspeed_v2

This same state of “relative observation” occurs during all meteor showers as the Earth revolves around the Sun. The meteors, themselves mostly no larger than grains of sand, are not moving rapidly towards the Earth’s atmosphere. They lie scattered about the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, a result of the comet heating enough as it approaches the Sun to lose small pieces of its surface. If Swift-Tuttle were a massive gravel delivery truck (to continue the driving analogy), these small grains would be the random pieces of rock that fall to the ground as the truck bumps over uneven pieces of highway.

Clash Of The Tinys

It is the Earth, revolving around the Sun at a dizzying 110,000 km/hour (that’s 30 km/second!), that powers the meteor shower we see on the ground. As the Earth rushes through the debris field of Comet Swift-Tuttle, these tiny grains of comet come into contact with our atmosphere at speeds so great that they ignite the air around them, causing brilliant streaks of light as the tiny grains are incinerated.

The number of meteors one can observe over a Perseid session is determined by (1) your looking at the right place at the right time (no long blinks!) and (2) the density of tiny Swift-Tuttle-ettes in the comet’s orbit as Earth passes through it. There are some meteor showers where one is lucky to see a few per hour. Because the Earth passes through a generally rich part of Swift-Tuttle’s orbit, two or three per minute may not be uncommon for a “usual” Perseid session. Those outside for the 1972 Perseid Meteor Shower were treated to what many believe to be the best meteor shower in recorded history (and those outside for the 1998 Leonid Meteor Shower (a close second by all metrics) know what it’s like to see thousands per hour raining down on dark skies).

Finding Perseus

The Perseids appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus. For your best chance of seeing Perseid meteors, it is not your eyes that should be transfixed on the heart of Perseus. Instead, you should anchor the bottoms of your toes towards Perseus, then find a comfortable piece of ground (or reclining chair) that gives you a clear view of the sky right above you. Perseid meteors will then, with a thick patch of debris field and a bit of patience, appear to blaze across the night sky from your toes (Northeast) past your head (to the Southwest).

2013august3_perseus_finding_v1

Perseus will appear to rise above the Northeast horizon after 9:00 p.m. Directly above the stars of Perseus resides Cassiopeia – a giant and prominent “W” in the night sky that, for many hours after sunset, will appear as a West-facing throne for this ancient Ethiopian queen. Those familiar with the many tricks amateur astronomers use to learn the Night Sky will simply find Polaris, perhaps using the two end stars of the bowl of the Big Dipper and an imaginary line along these stars in the direction of the bowl’s open face to pick out the dim North Star. Polaris does not shine with the brightness one might have imagined for the second most important star in the sky (after our own Sun), but it is in a piece of sky that contains few brighter stars, making it the most obvious member of a very modest piece of northern sky.

If you’re still too new to constellation hunting, the solution is simple! Grab a compass (or a compass app in your smart phone) and find Northeast the new-fashioned way. With luck, the Perseids will race to the Southwest at a rate of a few per minute, increasing in count, then decreasing, from around 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. local time. With the good fortunes of all the Olympian Gods, we’ll all be treated to many, many more.

Additional Information

The Perseid Meteor Shower

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perseids
earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-perseid-meteor-shower
solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/perseids.cfm

Comet Swift-Tuttle

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet_Swift%E2%80%93Tuttle
ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=109P

Meteors And Meteor Showers

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteor_shower
leonid.arc.nasa.gov/meteor.html

Bob Piekiel’s August 12th Baltimore Woods Perseid Session Now Listed As An “International Starry Night” Event

UPDATE: 28 July 2013 – The International Starry Night page for the Baltimore Woods event can be found @ THIS LINK.

Check cnyo.org on the 12th (and 13th) for final event details.
To Register By Email: info@baltimorewoods.org
To Register By Phone: (315) 673-1350
Please register for this event! Low registration may cause programs to be canceled.
Date: Monday, August 12th (weather-alternate: Tuesday, August 13th)
Cost: $5 for Baltimore Woods members/$15 for BW families; $8 for non-members/$25 for families
Time: 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. (maybe beyond?)
Bring: Chairs (or something to lay on), bug spray, and long sleeves
About The Perseids: See THIS EXCELLENT SUMMARY at earthsky.org
Location: Baltimore Woods Nature Center in Marcellus, NY (directions)


View Larger Map


Greetings fellow astrophiles!

Bob Piekiel, Baltimore Woods, and CNYO are pleased to be hosting a local session for the “International Starry Night,” (herein referred to as “ISN”) an event organized by the “One Star at a Time” Program. While the official ISN night is scheduled for Saturday, August 10th, ISN-related events are being scheduled throughout the days around the Perseid Meteor Shower, and we have opted to host this event during the peak nights of the Perseids. Dedicated amateur astronomers cannot be bothered with such trivialities as their mental states at work on Tuesday (or weather-alternate Wednesday) mornings!

The ISN, which coincides with the Perseid Meteor Shower this year, is being used as a way to organize meteor shower observers and amateur astronomers around to world in the interest of both increasing nighttime observation and decreasing the amount of light pollution through understanding of the issues and public action. As described on the starry-night.org website (and note that their August 10th date is NOT our August 12th date):

2013july20_starrynight_620

Click on the image for a full-sized version (8 MB).

The “One Star at a Time” program is a worldwide effort to create accessible public spaces to view a starry night sky. The program uses night sky conservation to unite people across the planet, their cultures and their skies. This is a story of how people from around the world united together to give the gift of natural starlight for all children of this planet.

A National Parks Service study predicts that unless we can significantly reduce light pollution, by 2025 only 10% of people in the United States will EVER see a starry night sky in their LIFETIME. Similar concerns are coming from all around the world.

“One Star at a Time, Reclaim the starry night sky” is a campaign to engage and unite the public on a global scale to reduce light pollution so that we may reconnect with the stars and each other. The motto of Astronomers Without Borders is “One People*One Sky”. If we can unveil the inspirational night sky we share with all people of this planet, and share experiences and explorations of the cosmos together, we may regain steps toward peace… the greatest gift we could ever give to our children.

On Light Pollution…

Overcast skies and light pollution are THE biggest problems facing amateur astronomy. Unlike the weather conditions, light pollution is a problem that CAN be addressed through legislation and education. International organizations, such as the International Dark-Sky Association, and local groups that lobby for proper lighting legislation, such as SELENE-NY (selene-ny.org), have been pushing for years to educate the public on the potential health risks of light pollution, the importance of dark nights for other species, the best choices of lighting fixtures that help reduce light pollution, and the obvious cost benefits that come from lighting ONLY places that need lighting with ONLY the amount of lighting that is required.

Observers throughout CNY have noticed the increase in light pollution from many familiar observing locations – including Darling Hill Observatory, Beaver Lake Nature Center, and Baltimore Woods. The problem is one of engagement – if more people, organizations, municipalities, and companies know how to illuminate the night in keeping with pro-dark sky practices, light pollution could be greatly reduced. Imagine how much more observing could be done if the sky near our horizons were that much darker!

On the Perseid Meteor Shower…

The issue of light pollution aside, the Perseids and the Leonids often tie for the best meteor showers of the year, with the Perseids benefiting from their appearance in the mid-Summer nighttime sky. The International Starry Night event will find groups around the planet observing the Perseids together (provided the nighttime sky remains clear). And, as an added bonus, the Perseids coincide with the tail end of the Delta Aquarids, a much smaller meteor shower that is more prominent at Southern Latitudes. But we will take any additional shooting stars we can!

But wait, there’s more! The Perseids peak during a Waxing Crescent Moon, meaning the Moon will have set before or near 10:00 p.m. for all five reasonable observing nights (August 10th – 14th). Attendees will have Saturn and the Moon to observe in early-evening skies, then intrepid observers will have Neptune, Uranus, and a host of deep-sky objects to find and observe for the rest of the night.

On the Entire Perseid Meteor Shower Weekend…

The week around the August 12th peak is a busy one for CNYO members. CNYO will also be hosting a lecture and observing session on August 8th (on the 15th as a weather-alternate) at Beaver Lake Nature Center. Maybe a few decent shooting stars on the 8th will hint at a busy Perseid peak on the 10th-12th. We will keep you posted!