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lunes, agosto 11, 2008

In The Sky Tonight: The Perseid Meteor Shower

A Perseid Shower

This will be incredibly quick. Read this, back away from the keyboard, turn off all the lights (this works best in rural America), go outside and look up. Look up at the night sky. Be patient. Tonight, dharmaniacs, is the annual Perseid Meteor shower.

Space Daily (that title is not a joke) reports:
Mark your calendar: The 2008 Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12th and it should be a good show. "The time to look is during the dark hours before dawn on Tuesday, August 12th," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

"There should be plenty of meteors--perhaps one or two every minute."

The source of the shower is Comet Swift-Tuttle. Although the comet is far away, currently located beyond the orbit of Uranus, a trail of debris from the comet stretches all the way back to Earth. Crossing the trail in August, Earth will be pelted by specks of comet dust hitting the atmosphere at 132,000 mph.

At that speed, even a flimsy speck of dust makes a vivid streak of light when it disintegrates--a meteor! Because, Swift-Tuttle's meteors streak out of the constellation Perseus, they are called "Perseids."

(Note: In the narrative that follows, all times are local. For instance, 9:00 pm means 9:00 pm in your time zone, where you live. )

Serious meteor hunters will begin their watch early, on Monday evening, August 11th, around 9 pm when Perseus first rises in the northeast.

This is the time to look for Perseid Earthgrazers--meteors that approach from the horizon and skim the atmosphere overhead like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond.

"Earthgrazers are long, slow and colorful; they are among the most beautiful of meteors," says Cooke. He cautions that an hour of watching may net only a few of these at most, but seeing even one can make the whole night worthwhile.
The LA Times version, with times in PDT:
“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. 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.”
I know, I know. You have to go away from the screen, away from the keyboard, and then, of all impossible things, you have to look up. Sorry. They haven't invented Perseids 2.0, the meteor that's not outside and is on demand, but they're working on it. Until then, the best show in town tonight is in the sky.

Enjoy. h/t to Americablog.

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