In the next few months, the night sky will light up with colorful fireballs, flaring outbursts and streaking meteors wishfully called “shooting stars.”
Get away from the city lights and see how many you can spot, starting with the Perseid meteor shower peaking Aug. 12-13 and showcasing nearly 50 meteors per hour.
The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most consistent performers and considered by many as this year’s best shower.
The meteors they produce are among the brightest of all meteor showers. The source of the shower is from the Comet Swift Tuttle. The crescent moon is expected to set early in the evening, allowing for dark skies all the way up until peak viewing just before dawn.
Log on to the chat window at www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/index.html Aug. 12 at 3 p.m. and NASA astronomer Bill Cooke will answer your questions prior to the shower.
With the second-fastest entry velocity of the annual meteor showers, meteors from the Orionids produce yellow and green colors and have been known to produce an odd fireball from time to time. Comet of origin: 1P/Halley
Radiant: just to the north of constellation Orion’s bright star Betelgeuse.
Active: Oct. 4-Nov. 14
Peak: Night of Oct. 22, but the light reflecting off an almost-full moon makes 2010 a less-than-spectacular year for one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular showers. Approximately 15 meteors per hour, if the sky is dark. Optimal viewing is an hour or two before dawn.
The Leonids have not only produced some of the best meteor showers in history, but have sometimes achieved the status of meteor storm. During a Leonid meteor storm, many thousands of meteors per hour can shoot across the sky. Scientists believe these storms recur in cycles of about 33 years, though the reason is unknown. The last documented Leonid meteor storm occurred in 2002. Comet of origin: 55P/Tempel-Tuttle
Radiant: constellation Leo
Active: Nov. 7-28
Peak: Night of Nov. 17-18. Approximately 15 per hour. A half-full moon sets after midnight, allowing for a dark sky. Best viewing time will be just before dawn.
Generally, the Geminids or August’s Perseids provide the best meteor shower show of the year. Geminids are usually considered the best opportunity for younger viewers because the show gets going around 9 or 10 p.m. Unfortunately the moon does not set until after midnight this year, making for the possibility of drooping eyelids from the pre-teen set.
Comet of origin: 3200 Phaethon
Radiant: constellation Gemini
Active: Dec. 4-16
Peak: Night of Dec. 13 -14 Approximately 50 meteors per hour. Time of optimal viewing is at 2 a.m.
Don’t know anything about astronomy but want to learn?
Columbus State’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center hosts an Astronomy Night program of stargazing and planet viewing Aug. 9 at Callaway Gardens’ Overlook Pavilion near Pine Mountain, Ga. The program is free and it will close out the center’s annual Monday summer series at Callaway.
Aug. 28, Astronomy Night is at the Coca-Cola Space Center in Columbus. Planetarium time starts at 8 p.m. and observation starts at 9. The next Astronomy Night, also at the CCSSC, is Sept. 18. But the planetarium time starts at 7 p.m. and observation begins at 8. In October, Astronomy Night moves to F.D. Roosevelt State Park, Pine Mountain, and in November, it’s at Providence Canyon near Lumpkin, Ga. For more information, call 706-649-1470 or go to www.ccssc.org.
Websites to try:
www.skymaps.com/skymaps/tesmn1008.pdf The Evening Sky Map is a monthly two-page PDF that shows the location of the stars, constellations, galaxies and gives tips for observing the night sky without optical aid or using binoculars and telescopes.
earthsky.org/astronomy At this site, experts answer questions via blog on how to watch a meteor shower, whether Mars will be as big as a full moon Aug. 27 and where and when to look for Mars (in the west after the sun goes down).
www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/index.html A waning crescent moon will set the stage for a brilliant 2010 Perseid meteor shower. NASA astronomer Bill Cooke will answer your questions Aug. 12 at 3 p.m. if you log in to the chat window.