A Perseid Meteor Preview
It’s that time of year when start to focus on showers that don’t have anything to do with rain. This Saturday night is the peak of the Perseid Meteor shower.At its basic level, the shower is being caused by the earth going through the debris of a comet. In this case it is 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The debris races into our upper atmosphere where it heats up and vaporizes which gives you the ‘shooting stars,’ the bright tails of light that streak across the sky.The best advice is to wait until 11pm or Midnight and then go outside to a location that gives you a clear view of the whole sky away from the influence of city lights. When you are outside give your eyes several minutes to adjust to the dark look toward the northeast then enjoy. The good news is there will be little in the way of light from the moon to get in the way. There will only be a thin crescent moon rising above the eastern horizon a few hours before sunrise.
Also make sure you are patient. At the peak Saturday night there will be about one meteor per second. That’s it but in the world of astronomy and meteor watching that is quite active. There is always the chance of what’s called a meteor ‘storm’ occurring when hundreds of meteors drop through the atmosphere per minute but I haven’t read any scuttlebut of that happening this year.While you are watching for meteors you might think they are coming down very close to your location as they are burning up. In reality you are seeing these shooting stars burning up high in the atmosphere, typically between 50-75 miles up.Now we have to focus a little on the weather for this weekend’s show and it looks to be touch and go for Saturday night. For one of the few times this summer we have a trough of low pressure dropping into the Northeast. That means our weather is going to be unsettled for the end of the week into the weekend with times of showers and thunderstorms along with periods of clouds. One of the maps we use for cloud cover is a 700 mb (10,000 ft) moisture chart. This is a good location for cloud formation. Here is a map from the latest GFS model for that level of the atmosphere centered on this Saturday at sunset:
Even though the peak in this Saturday, there will still be meteors that you can see in the northeast sky for the next several weeks. They just won’t be as frequent. So of the weather doesn’t cooperate Saturday night you might want to try Sunday or Monday night.
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