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Viewer's Guide: Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Sunday & Monday
Drudge Report ^ | August 12 2002 | Joe Rao

Posted on 08/12/2002 3:44:34 AM PDT by 2Trievers

Every August, just when many people go vacationing in the country where skies are dark, the best-known meteor shower makes its appearance. As with many celestial phenomena, there's some curious lore surrounding the shooting stars of the annual Perseid meteor shower.

Laurentius, a Christian deacon, is said to have been martyred by the Romans in 258 AD on an iron outdoor stove. It was in the midst of this torture that Laurentius supposedly cried out: "I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other."

It is highly doubtful whether this actually happened or was a product of morbid medieval imagination, but King Phillip II of Spain believed it enough to build his monastery place, the "Escorial," on the plan of the holy gridiron. The saint’s death was commemorated on his feast day, Aug. 10.

The abundance of shooting stars seen annually between approximately Aug. 8 and 14 have come to be known by some as St. Lawrence’s "fiery tears."

Trail of debris

We know today that these meteors are the dross of a comet called Swift-Tuttle.

Discovered in 1862, this comet takes approximately 130 years to circle the Sun. And in much the same way that the Tempel-Tuttle comet leaves a trail of debris along its orbit to produce the spectacular Leonid meteors of November, the Swift-Tuttle comet produces a debris trail along its orbit to generate the Perseids.

Indeed, every year during mid-August, when the Earth passes close to the orbit of Swift-Tuttle, the material left behind by the comet from its previous visits rams into our atmosphere at approximately 37 miles per second (60 kilometers per second) and creates bright streaks of light in the midsummer night skies.

According to the best estimates, in 2002 the Earth is predicted to cut through the densest part of the Perseid stream sometime between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 12. This is during the late afternoon and early evening hours across North America, and while the actual interval of peak activity might be lost to daylight, the predawn hours of both Monday morning, the 12th, and Tuesday morning, the 13th, still holds the promise of seeing a very fine Perseid display.

For Europe, the peak comes near or soon after midnight on Aug. 13. Few Perseids are ever visible from the Southern Hemisphere.

The Perseids are considered active from about July 25 through Aug. 18, and hourly rates usually rise above 10 starting about Aug. 8. Rates fall off much more rapidly after the peak, dropping again to below 10 per hour after about Aug. 14.

The Moon, whose light partially interfered with last year’s Perseids, will not do so this year. It will be a lovely crescent phase in the early evening sky after sunset, even hovering near the brilliant Venus on Sunday, the 11th. The Moon will set around 10:15 p.m. Sunday night and about a half hour later on Monday, the 12th, leaving the sky dark for the early morning hours, which tend to be prime-time for meteor viewing.

What to expect

Based on recent history, a very good Perseid shower will produce about one meteor per minute for a given observer under a dark country sky. Any light pollution, moonlight or hazy skies considerably reduces the count.

The August Perseids are among the strongest of the readily observed annual meteor showers, and at maximum activity can yield 50 or 60 meteors per hour. However, observers with exceptional sky conditions often record even larger numbers. Also, during an overnight watch, the Perseids are capable of producing a number of bright, flaring and fragmenting meteors, which leave fine trains in their wake.

On the night of shower maximum, the Perseid radiant is not far from the famous "Double Star Cluster" of Perseus. Low in the northeast during the early evening, it rises higher in the sky until morning twilight ends observing. Meteors appearing close to the radiant have foreshortened tracks; those appearing farther away are often brighter, have longer tracks, and move faster across the sky because of our view of their trajectory.

About five to 10 additional meteors in any given hour will not fit the geometric pattern of the Perseids and may be classified as sporadic meteors or as members of some other lesser shower.

Perseid activity increases sharply in the hours after midnight, so plan your observing times accordingly. If time is short, you can simply set your alarm for 3 a.m. and watch the last couple hours of the event. We are then looking more nearly face-on into the direction of the Earth’s motion as it orbits the Sun, and the radiant is also higher up, so viewing conditions are optimal.Meteors and myth Finally, comets and meteor showers tend to fuel myths Let's dispel one here:

Many years ago, a phone call came into New York’s Hayden Planetarium. The caller sounded concerned about a radio announcement of an upcoming Perseid display and wanted to know if it would be dangerous to stay outdoors on the night of the peak of the shower (perhaps assuming there was a danger of getting hit). These meteoroids, however, are no bigger than sand grains or pebbles, have the consistency of cigar ash and are consumed many miles above our heads.

The caller was passed along to the Planetarium’s chief astronomer, who commented that there are only two dangers from Perseid watching: getting drenched with dew and falling asleep.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: perseidmeteor; showers

Don't miss the wonder. &;-)

1 posted on 08/12/2002 3:44:34 AM PDT by 2Trievers
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To: 2Trievers
Saw about 10 or so from Mississippi. What a glorious sight. Am in awe of God's greatness. Wish I was in a less lighted area!
2 posted on 08/12/2002 3:53:46 AM PDT by BlessedAmerican
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To: 2Trievers
I'm watching this on TV.

Not going to take a chance on a mosquito giving me West Nile-itis.

Wouldn't be prudent.

3 posted on 08/12/2002 3:59:06 AM PDT by Ken H
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To: BlessedAmerican
While not as great as the Leonids of last November ... truly spectacular, indeed! Enjoy! &;-)
4 posted on 08/12/2002 4:00:13 AM PDT by 2Trievers
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To: Ken H
WAIT! I foolishly went out last night to see them ... duh! Wrong date! But I watched the bats catch mosquitoes and bugs ... that was kinda cool! Unless you have an inordinate fear of rabies ... LOL &;-)
5 posted on 08/12/2002 4:07:54 AM PDT by 2Trievers
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To: BlessedAmerican
Only a few in northwest Atlanta area this morning. (Too much city lights?)
6 posted on 08/12/2002 4:22:06 AM PDT by Robert A Cook PE
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To: 2Trievers
I tried watching some early this morning around 4 AM in Philadelphia. Light pollution + high humidity = waste of time. In half an hour of viewing I saw nothing.
7 posted on 08/12/2002 4:34:26 AM PDT by Physicist
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To: Physicist; 2Trievers
Same thing in L.A., too much light pollution. But, if you really use your imagination, you can pretend the planes lined up to land at LAX as stars.
8 posted on 08/12/2002 4:42:07 AM PDT by Bella_Bru
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To: Bella_Bru
I like the positive attiude! Good day...
9 posted on 08/12/2002 4:56:48 AM PDT by BlessedAmerican
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To: 2Trievers
I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It's been overcast and rainy the past week and in Scotland, that isn't apt to change. But I see a few patches of blue now, maybe it'll hold out till midnight.
10 posted on 08/12/2002 5:18:38 AM PDT by Prodigal Son
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To: Prodigal Son
Good luck ... good viewing! &;-)
11 posted on 08/12/2002 5:34:15 AM PDT by 2Trievers
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To: 2Trievers
Yeah, well, I'm hoping brother! There's even a little sunshine on my tomato plants at the moment!
12 posted on 08/12/2002 5:54:32 AM PDT by Prodigal Son
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To: 2Trievers
I was way out in Minnesota's northcountry on Saturday. At about midnight, I saw aproximately 1 meteor every 2 minutes, with some great trails behind them. At 4 AM I spent another ten minutes watching and saw only one, though it was particularly bright. Overall, the Leonids were FAR more active, though the peak is yet to come. Unfortunately I am back in town now.
13 posted on 08/12/2002 7:56:02 AM PDT by Faeroe
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To: Faeroe
A few is better than none ... WTG! Did you make any wishes? &;-)
14 posted on 08/12/2002 8:02:53 AM PDT by 2Trievers
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To: Ken H
I just went outside and saw two stars and got three mosquito bites.

I decided I better give it up or risk becoming the first West Nile case in SC.
15 posted on 08/12/2002 5:58:32 PM PDT by The Game Hen
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To: 2Trievers
Just got back inside...I think Perseid is Astronomy talk for April Fools...Saw one!
16 posted on 08/13/2002 5:24:48 AM PDT by Drango
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To: Drango
LOL ... well at least it was something ... we have been overcast here with dense fog. &;-(
17 posted on 08/13/2002 5:27:14 AM PDT by 2Trievers
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