A Less-Quick Note About the Perseids

Hey, everybody. Welcome back. Thanks, as always, for taking the time and checking in again. You know, you’d think after all this time, I’d remember to not write when I’m tired from a long day of scattered running around. So, that’s why I didn’t have a lot to say about this week’s Perseids when I posted last night. This time, though, I’m downwind from someone cooking bacon, so there’s more trouble for me. Either way, I won’t lie, I’m really much more excited by it all than I think I might have let on last night. In fact, as I sat on my couch dozing a bit while I watched some of the Olympic swimming, I convinced myself to step outside and see what I could see.

Earlier in the evening, I was out with my wife, daughter, and a guinea pig to see if we could find some bats twist and dart overhead.  I turned just enough toward the northeast at just the right moment, and saw a flash zip, or, if you prefer technical jargon, I think scoot is the term, out of the corner of my eye. If it was bright enough for me to see in the early part of the evening, I can only imagine how bright it would have been in a fully darkened sky. So, by 11:00 or so, after I wrote my earlier post, and was ready to turn in, I took a quick jump out in front of my house.

I have a couple of favorite bits of curb that I like to sit on when I watch the sky. One faces a nice chunk of the southern skies, another, opposite it, faces a thin, but always gorgeous slice to the northeast. As I sat there, in less than a five minutes, giving my eyes only that time to adjust to the dark, I saw two meteors streak across the sky. If last night and tonight are the trailer for the movie you can’t wait to see, Thursday into Friday is going to be something else.

To add on to what I said last night, a friend asked for some more info about looking at the Perseids, so here’s more, written from the perspective of a more awake guy.

The peak of the Perseids is going to be overnight Thursday into Friday, the 11th into the 12th. The Moon, which is always a party-pooper when it shows up at meteor showers, will be just past the first-quarter phase (so, like a fat half Moon). Around where I live, this means it’ll set a little before 1:00 AM. So, the darkest skies will be from then until maybe like 4:00 or 4:30 when the Sun will have crept toward the horizon enough to brighten the eastern skies. Grab a chair or a beach blanket to sit on, or some chunky curb, and give yourself a few minutes to let your eyes adjust to the dark. This can take a surprisingly long time. Be patient.

Before I go any further, looking at meteor showers is something that’s best done with just your naked eyes. If you want to bring binoculars or your telescope to look at other things, that’s a great idea, but they’re not going to do a whole to help see the meteor shower. You want to widest view possible, and scopes will cut a lot of your view down.

Now, look to the northeast. High up, you’ll see the familiar W (or M, or E, or 3)-shaped asterism of Cassiopeia. A bit lower in the sky is the constellation Perseus. Most, but not all, of the meteors will appear as gorgeous streaks heading outward from Perseus (it’s what gives the Pereids its name– Perseus is the radiant of the Perseid shower. Leo is the radiant of the Leonids, Taurus, the Taurids, etc.). I think Perseus is kind of an indistinct constellation, so I usually just look in the direction of Cassiopeia, but lower. It’s easier to find.

Here’s a screenshot from Stellarium showing the northeast skies at 1:30am Friday morning. I’ve centered it roughly on Perseus. North is to the left.

The Northeast sky 1:30am August 12, 2016 – Centered roughly on Perseus

Like I mentioned yesterday, this year’s shower is expected to be really incredible, with possibly as many as about 200 meteors per hour during the peak overnight on the 11th. I’m going to get up early to check it out.

If you have a look, too, let me know how it goes, and really, this time, clear skies, everyone!


4 thoughts on “A Less-Quick Note About the Perseids

  1. Yeah, the last time I checked, the forecast was pretty bleak around here, too. Ah well. It wouldn’t be a great event in the sky if there weren’t clouds on the way. At least it’s happening, and at least someone will be watching and smiling. Streaming it, though? I guess that’s better than nothing, but it seems just as exciting as watching fireworks on TV. 🙂


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