Monday, August 10, 2009
Lastest data on the Perseid meteor shower
This year's Perseid meteor shower could be even better than usual. According to NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, a filament of comet dust has drifted across Earth's path and when Earth passes through it, sometime between 0800 and 0900 UT (1 - 2 am PDT) on August 12th, the Perseid meteor rate could surge to twice its normal value.
Earth is entering a stream of dusty debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, the source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Although the shower won't peak until August 11th and 12th, the show is already getting underway.
For sky watchers in North America, the watch begins after nightfall on August 11th and continues until sunrise on the 12th. Veteran observers suggest the following strategy: Unfold a blanket on a flat patch of ground. (Note: The middle of your street is not a good choice.) Lie down and look up. Perseids can appear in any part of the sky, their tails all pointing back to the shower's radiant in the constellation Perseus. Get away from city lights if you can.
There is one light you cannot escape on August 12th. The 55% gibbous Moon will glare down from the constellation Aries just next door to the shower's radiant in Perseus. The Moon is beautiful, but don't stare at it. Bright moonlight ruins night vision and it will wipe out any faint Perseids in that part of the sky.
The Moon is least troublesome during the early evening hours of August 11th. Around 9 to 11 p.m. local time (your local time), both Perseus and the Moon will be hanging low in the north. This low profile reduces lunar glare while positioning the shower's radiant for a nice display of Earthgrazers.