Barring cloudy skies, this week’s Perseid meteor shower may be a classic, excellent show.
The shooting star spectacle peaks on the night of Wednesday into Thursday morning, with as many as 90 to 100 shooting stars an hour, according to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the Royal Astronomical Society in the U.K. In the eastern U.S., the most prolific cosmic bombardment will likely be around 4 a.m. Eastern time.
This year’s peak could be phenomenal because the Perseids won’t compete with moon light, since the waning crescent moon sets at 6:44 p.m. on Wednesday. This will create a nice dark, moon-free heaven for meteor observers.
How can you watch? “Look towards the familiar constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus in the northeast,” according to NASA. “They rise soon after sunset, but you’ll want to wait til they are higher in the sky to see the most meteors.”
It helps to be in a dark location, away from the brightest city lights, but here is no need to set up a telescope or binoculars. Arm yourself with a beverage, walk outside and stare at the sky. Beach and rural settings might be a perfect fit for finding shooting stars.
If you’re keen to capture photos, the American Meteor Society has published a guide to get you started with your DSLR.
Comets – so-called dirty snowballs running around our solar system – leave bits of dirt particles behind. Our little blue planet runs through many comet debris trails that are lingering out there in space throughout the year. When Earth encounters these trails, the flecks of dirt, which are about the size of Grape Nuts cereal, says Sky & Telescope magazine, strike our atmosphere and burn up to create mesmerizing streaks across the heavens.
For the District, the Perseids hold a special meaning. Astronomer Horace P. Tuttle discovered Comet Swift-Tuttle – the comet that causes the Perseid meteors – on July 19, 1862, from the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. During the Civil War, he joined the U.S. Army and later became an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. He died in 1923 and is buried in an unmarked grave at Oakwood Cemetery, near Seven Corners in Falls Church, Va.
If you want to watch the meteor shower from the comfort of your living room, Slooh astronomers Bob Berman and for a live dark-sky broadcast on Wednesday at 8 p.m. You might also check out #meteorshower on Twitter.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will host a four-hour live Ustream broadcast about the Perseid meteor shower, on Wednesday starting at 10 p.m. Bill Cooke, Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw, all of NASA’s Micrometeoroid Office, will provide Perseid commentary and will answer questions online, using Marshall social media accounts.
To join NASA’s online conversation, tweet questions to @NASA_Marshall using the hashtag #askNASA, or post questions at broadcast time to the Marshall Facebook.
Cloud cover forecasts suggest the viewing will be good over much of the Eastern and Western U.S., with the potential for cloudiness from the central Rockies to the Upper Midwest.