Meteor Alert: Perseid Shower Now Active (Update)

The 2004 Perseid meteor shower (© Fred Bruenjes)
The 2004 Perseid meteor shower (© Fred Bruenjes)

Update (1:30am PST): Spotted three very bright and several dim meteors in a 10 minute observation period (not bad for LA skies!). The bright meteors left strong, and long-lasting ionization trails that were visible for a couple of seconds. It can only get more active, so I’ll be back outside soon…

OK, so for my second attempt at seeing the Perseid meteor shower, I’m donning the shorts and T-shirt (not your usual astronomy garb, but this is California!) and getting out into the back yard. I’ll be looking North-East, through a clearing in the palm trees and keeping an eye open for the Perseus constellation. As you can probably tell, I’m no practical astronomer, but my wonderful colleague Tammy Plotner’s enthusiastic writing is infectious and I want to catch some shooting stars with my own eyes!

Wish me luck…

This is a recent report from my local Griffin Observatory, Los Angeles:

The most eagerly anticipated event this week is the annual Perseid meteor shower – the summer’s finest. This year the shower’s maximum is expected during the dark hours between the evening of Monday, Aug. 11, and dawn of Tuesday, Aug. 12. The best time to watch is from moonset, at 1:57 a.m., until dawn, at 4:45 a.m. PDT. The number of meteors that you can see depends on the quality of your observing conditions, and the greatest number, between one and two per minute, are only expected from wilderness sites free of urban light pollution. The best way to watch is by reclining in a sleeping bag (and coat) on a deck chair. Aim your gaze high overhead, in the east or northeast direction. Perseids can appear anywhere in the sky, but seem to come from the direction of the constellation Perseus, the superhero.Griffin Observatory Sky Report

Unfortunately for me, I’m right next to one of the biggest light bulbs in the world (LA), so this experience will be interesting. As for the rest of the world, I think you stand a good chance of seeing the dusty trail of comet Swift-Tuttle burn up in the upper atmosphere on the nights of the 11th and 12th August.

Some background to the comet Swift-Tuttle:

Comet Swift-Tuttle, which is responsible for the Perseid meteor showers, was discovered in 1862 by American astronomers Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle. At the farthest end of its 133 year orbit, Swift-Tuttle shoots almost 5 billion miles away from the sun, outside the orbit of Pluto, while at its closest the comet brushes closer to the sun than Earth. Swift-Tuttle was last seen in 1992 when it was rediscovered by Japanese astronomer Tsuruhiko Kiuchi. It won’t be back in the solar neighborhood until 2126. – from

If I fail to see anything, I’ll get straight back in and get on with some more science writing…

(Apologies for the cut-and-paste article, I’m in a rush!)

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