2010 Perseid Meteor Shower and a Planetary Conjunction

The time to watch one of nature’s most awesome and reliable light show has come around again – it’s Perseid Meteor Shower time.

So round up your friend(s) and family,

find a good spot

get comfortable, look up

and enjoy.

Perseid Meteor Shower

When

I’ve read two different things on the various websites. Most say that the peak viewing will occur the night between Thursday, August 12 and Friday, August 13 but a couple have said that the night between Wednesday, August 11 and Thursday, August 12 will be the best night. With the projected peak occurring around 8PM Eastern, I’m inclined to think the night of 12-13 will be the best night, at least for those living in North America; however, the Perseids have a wide peak so either night will probably be good viewing, no matter where you live. It’s also possible to see a smaller amount (25% to 50% of peak values) during the couple of nights before and after these nights. Last year, I had the time and the viewing conditions to check out the night before and the night after the peak night and found it was well worth the time.

Where

The meteors originate from the northeast area of the sky and while many can be seen in this area, they will appear anywhere in the sky.

Factors

The number and frequency of meteors that the viewer will see will depend on several factors.

  • Most meteors, including the Perseids, are in reality debris from comets that the Earth runs through and this debris is normally the size of grains of rice. Some years the Earth goes through denser or lighter debris areas and this makes for a varying amount of meteors. In the case of the Perseids, perfect viewing conditions mean roughly ~100 meteors are seen per hour in an average year but past rates do not guarantee a certain level this year.
  • The darker the sky and the darker the area surrounding the viewer, the more meteors will be seen. Heading to the country is best but finding a place to go might be difficult unless you know someone out there. Finding a spot that no lights shine on you and that allows you to see a large percentage of the sky is all that’s really needed.
  • This year the moon will not be a problem like it has been the last couple of years! :)
  • The spacing between seeing meteors will vary greatly; I’ve waited as little as 30 seconds and as long as 20 minutes to see the next meteor.
  • While anytime during this night will yield a multitude of meteors, the rate does increase the closer to dawn you watch but the best quality meteors (with the brightest, longest tails) occur more frequently right after it gets dark.

Things You’ll Need

  • To view the meteors I have used two methods: laying on a blanket and sitting in a reclining lawn chair. Both work and remain comfortable after long periods of time so I’d suggest whichever is easier to set up. You might want to bring a pillow or two, just in case.
  • I’ve never had problems with insects but it might be a good idea to bring along some insect repellent.
  • Nights outside get surprisingly cool. Even if the low is going to be in the upper 60’s, there’s a good chance that you’ll get cold. I always like to bring at least a second cover but will also bring a hoodie or light jacket as well.
  • A little patience. Seeing a meteor before your eyes have adjusted to the darkness is nearly impossible and it takes roughly 10-15 minutes for your eyes to completely adapt. So, don’t get quickly discouraged and try to limit exposing your eyes to bright lights once you’re outside.
  • Clear skies. :)
  • Not really a requirement but having a few people with you (family, friends) does make the experience more fun. Scanning the entire sky is nearly impossible for one person so having more eyes might mean more meteors seen and if the meteors aren’t cooperating then you have someone to talk to while you watch for the next meteor.

Tip for City-dwellers

Light pollution will be a problem no matter what but by looking straight up you can minimize the interference. If you can imagine straight up as making a 90 degree angle with the ground, keep between 45 and 90 degrees when looking for meteors, any lower and they will most likely be obscured.

Other links: Wiki, A Darker View, Sky and Telescope, Space.com

Planetary Conjunction

Also going on in the nighttime sky is a planetary conjunction of Mars, Venus, and Saturn. This one has been going on for about a month now but a new addition is the inclusion of Mercury (Mercury isn’t close enough to be technically in conjunction with the others) and allows one to look at half of the planets in the solar system at one time along with the moon while standing on a fifth planet. The above picture is taken from Sky and Telescope and shows a simulated look of how this conjunction will look.

Other links: Sky and Telescope, A Darker View

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Good luck and happy meteor watching :)

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3 thoughts on “2010 Perseid Meteor Shower and a Planetary Conjunction”

  1. @Penguin_Factory: They’re from Bakemonogatari; it came out in 2009 and was animated by Shaft and directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. The whole series was a visual treat and one of my favorites from last year.

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