NEW: Perseid Meteor Shower Starts Tonight
Thursday, August 11, 2011
This year's Perseid meteor shower, the best and most observed meteor shower of the year, peaks starting tonight and goes into tomorrow night, August 12, and into the early morning of Saturday. As the moon becomes full on Friday, this will make the meteors harder to see, so tonight may be the best night overall for viewing.
Fast meteors & lots of them
Perseid meteors are among the fastest meteors, crossing one-third to one-half of the sky in about two seconds. The Perseid meteor shower can produce 50-80 meteors per hour, but this year, moonlight will probably drop it to 15-30 per hour, weather permitting.
The Perseid meteor shower is associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 133 years. Each August, the Earth's orbit travels through a cloud of the comet's debris and the shower is caused by pieces of 1,000 year-old ice and dust.
A meteor is simply a shooting star, a fleeting fiery streak in the sky produced by a meteoroid, a small piece of interplanetary debris, colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere, 30-80 miles above us. The brightest meteors have a strong green hue, which is believed to be due to the atmosphere's oxygen reacting to the passage of the meteor.
Best ways to see the meteors
Special viewings in Charlestown: Join Frosty Drew's astronomers at the Observatory on Thursday and Friday. There will be a 16" telescope open to the public from 8pm-midnight and smaller telescopes available throughout the night. From 8pm-9pm, visit the Sky Theater to understand where the Perseid shower comes from. Free Admission. Frosty Drew Observatory, Ninigret Park, 62 Park Lane, Charlestown. Call 364-9508.
Connect online: Friday night at 11pm, chat with NASA astronomer Bill Cooke and his team from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. They will answer questions about the meteor shower via a live web chat. They will be awake and observing with you until Saturday at 5am.
Get out of the city: Drive away from the city lights to a dark place, with a full view of the sky. Bring your friends, family, lawn chairs, blankets, and if you’re looking for a clearer view, binoculars and telescopes.
Study up: If you want to learn more, the Cormack Planetarium is a must. Admission to the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium is only $3 (ages 4-7 $2). The planetarium shows are Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. Roger Williams Park, 1000 Elmwood Ave, Providence, Call 785-9457.
Get psyched to share with this video from Meteorwatch 2011
Learn more with this video on the Perseid Meteor Shower, from NASA