Thursday, August 12, 2010

Houston Area Forecast: 100% Chance of Meteors

After a week-ling lead-up, tonight, August 12/13, 2010, is finally the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower. Wit this event, meteor season 2010 will kick off in a big way.

Every August, Earth passes through the stretch of space junk shed by comet Swift-Tuttle, reaching the deepest concentration of debris tonight. According to some estimates, under ideal conditions (dark country skies), one can expect to see 60 meteors per hour. The reason the meteors are called Perseids is because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus. The best time to view the shower is in the pre-dawn hours, with 3-5am being best.

Don't want to stay up that late? Don't worry, Perseus rises in the Northeast around midnight and will climb higher as the night progresses. However, unless one lives out in the country, the early post-midnight hours will probably involve Perseus being low in a light pollution dome. To improve odds of seeing meteors, travel out of light-polluted Cleveland and to the suburbs or, even better, the country if you can. In the suburbs, just going from the front to back yard can make a dramatic difference as this will eliminate glare from those pesky street/house lights to a large extent.

Two things can ruin the meteor shower: clouds and the Moon. The clouds? Well, that's a regional thing. Check your local Clear Sky Clock to see what the clouds have in store for your location tonight. For us Northeast Ohioans, tonight is looking good. As for the Moon, that's an Earth-wide issue. The good news is that, this year, the Moon is just a few days past new, which means that there will be no Moon up during the time of the meteor shower. There will be a slight lunar glow in the South (opposite Perseus), but this will disappear about midnight, which is about the time Perseus clears the Northeast horizon.

So how about viewing tips?

First, plan to stay out awhile, as it takes the human eye about 15 minutes to get optimal night vision capability. The bad news is that, even one bright flash of white light will wipe out night vision, requiring you to start the process all over again. Next, grab a lawn chair or, even better, a lounge-type chair. Trying to lean back with a straight-back lawn chair can be a pain in the neck, literally! Eyes ready for dark and with something to sit/lay on, settle in for a night of hopeful meteor watching (or at the very least, stargazing), just try not to fall asleep and don't forget the bug spray!

Besides meteors, tonight can be a great time for binocular viewing, owing to your use of a chair. Under suburban (maybe) or rural skies (definitely), a pair of medium power (10x50) binoculars can yield some stunning wide-angle sights. For someone truly dedicated, why not try and keep a tally of how many meteors you see for every complete hour? Really ambitious? Why not try photographing the meteors?

Whatever you plan to do tonight, good luck and clear skies!


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