Meteor shower tonight

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Do you have your dark-sky place picked out to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower starting tonight, Wednesday, August 12, into Thursday morning, August 13?

At present the weather for the Denver area does not look promising for clear skies Wednesday evening. However, the forecast-at present-for southwest Nebraska and Missouri is looking very good with clear skies for both locations. You might want to check out your local forecast for Wednesday evening just in case.

The Perseid shower consists of the leftover bits and pieces of periodic comet Swift-Tuttle. Every year in August Earth passes through the debris stream of the comet producing the shower.

When these bits and pieces-often no bigger than a grain of sand-traveling at hundreds to thousands of miles per hour encounter Earth's atmosphere

they burn up producing the brief streak of light we see as a "shooting star."

The radiant, or location where these streaks appear to originate, is located in the constellation Perseus, thus the name. Perseus rises over the northeastern horizon at about 11:30 pm MDT. It is shaped sort of like a large capital letter "A".

As the evening progresses and Perseus gets higher the best time for watching is between midnight and 4:00 am MDT. By 4:00 am, Perseus is almost directly overhead and the side of Earth we are standing on is pointed directly into the shower's line of travel.

Astronomers tell us that the average Zenith Hourly Rate (ZHR) for the Perseids is 60 per hour, however don't expect to see one a minute. You may see a bunch at one time, then nothing for a while, so keep watching, and don't just confine your observing to Perseus because the streaks can appear anywhere in the sky.

For a good observing session bring a blanket, or a reclining lawn chair so there won't be too much neck strain from looking up all the time, a jacket or sweater, some of your favorite munchies, and your favorite beverage (non-alcoholic preferred). Also bring some friends, it is more fun observing in a group.

A pair of binoculars or a telescope won't be needed for the meteor shower, however, if you want to do some looking around bring them along.

Speaking of looking around, there are some other denizens of the sky for us to locate. The "W" shape of Cassiopeia is to Perseus's upper left, Auriga and Taurus to the lower right with Orion and Gemini below them.

If you look to the south locate the big square of Pegasus high almost overhead.Be sure to scan through Auriga with a pair of binoculars for the three nice

Messier star clusters, M36, 37, and 38 running across its middle.

How long you stay outside depends on you, however, by 5:00 am MDT the Sun will start to lighten the sky.

SKY WATCH: New moon, Friday, August 14.

NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.

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