Tue, 24 Jul 2012
Watch for Perseid meteors
|Two Perseid meteors seen in 2010. Photo Robin Scagell|
Update 13 August
The Perseid meteors are a major event of the astronomical year, peaking this year on August 11–12 and 12–13. These shooting stars occur each year at this time, and are one of the most popular events of the year for stargazers as they occur when the nights are not too cold and usually provide good numbers of meteors.
Although the peak is now past, some Perseid meteors will still be visible for the next week or two. This will be a fairly good year to view them, with the crescent Moon rising later and later in the early morning.
To view them, all you need to do is to gaze at the sky in a comfortable chair, such as that sun lounger you have just dragged out from the back of the shed. But even in August it can get chilly, so keep a blanket handy! Have a red torch, pen and paper to make your notes, and a watch, and gaze upwards. (Red light doesn't affect your night vision as much as white light.)
Try to spend at least an hour watching, and you should see quite a few meteors. Find Perseus using our sky chart – it's over in the north east, below the 'W' of Cassiopeia. Any meteors that appear to come from Perseus, wherever they appear in the sky, are probably Perseid meteors. There may be meteors from other parts of the sky as well, known generally as 'sporadics'. Numbers should increase as the night goes on.
Note the time and source (Perseid or sporadic) of every meteor you see, and also keep notes of your start and end times, and time lost due to cloud cover or breaks. Afterwards, send a summary of your observations to the Meteor Section Director.
Though the Perseids are supposed to yield as many as 80 meteors an hour on the night of maximum, that only applies under ideal conditions and includes all meteors, both bright and faint. For most of us, conditions are less than ideal, and when you realise that there are more faint meteors than bright ones, you will understand that you will be lucky if you actually see only one meteor every few minutes on average, rather than more than one a minute. Long periods may go by without your seeing anything at all! So use the time learning the sky and stay vigilant.
Added by: Robin Scagell