The Perseids Meteor Shower
The Perseid meteor shower is a major annual event for sky-watchers and 2013 looks to be a great show. The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best meteor showers of the year. Luckily, the Moon (the source of light at night in the sky), will be set before the midnight, that is before the peak time of shower of meteor shower. That means no Moon to disturb us. Known as the most fantastic and accessible meteor shower of the year, the Perseids are expected to fill the “predawn skies with hundreds of shooting stars” on the evenings of Aug. 11-13, according to NASA.
Snowy Range Perseid Meteor Shower Credit: David Kingham Photography – facebook page
Meteor Shower is like shower in a bathroom?
Some people might think it is a shower like we take a shower in the bathroom. Many jokes are floating these days on facebook etc. related to this. Meteor Shower is an astronomical phenomenon where streaks of light appear in the sky at specific time in specific months and the lights lasts a fraction of seconds. The shower occurs when Earth passes the dust trails of a comet that passed near the orbit of the Earth.
Are the shooting stars, really stars?
They are sometimes called shooting stars and many people actually take them as if real stars are shooting because they have been broken down from the sky. The shooting stars are not at all real stars but pebble-sized or less or sometime bigger particles of dust that burns when they enter Earth’s atmosphere. They burn due to friction and the gravitational pull of Earth, and when they burn they leave a streak of light that lasts for less than a second.
The origin of Perseid meteor shower – Comet Swift-Tuttle
These are not the only Meteor Shower that happens in a year, but there are other great showers that occur during the year. However, since the Earth passes that area every year in the same month and time where Comet left particles, a Meteor shower occurs every year.
The meteor shower occurs in July and August as the Earth’s orbit takes us through the debris of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Earth’s gravity pulls in some of the chunks of debris — small rocks comprised of iron-nickel, stone, other minerals or a combination of these — which turn into bright balls of hot gas when entering Earth’s atmosphere. As darkness falls, the meteors appear to come from the constellation Perseus, hence the name; although later in the evening, the meteors originate higher in the sky than the constellation. (http://www.universetoday.com/103826/the-2013-perseid-meteor-shower-an-observers-guide/#ixzz2aw3isqO7)
The orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle and its intersection near the Earth’s orbit. (Created by the author using NASA/JPL ephemerides generator).
Where and how to look for Perseids?
Meteors can appear randomly in any part of the sky! But for meteor showers such as Perseids look near the constellation of Perseus.
If a meteor shower is in progress it usually helps to look about 45 degrees either side of the radiant and about 30 degrees up. Looking straight at the radiant means you will see meteors head on and with very short trails, looking to one side of the radiant gives a reasonable length of trails but is still close enough to catch the majority of meteors. Looking about 30 degrees up means you are looking through a larger volume of air than when looking overhead, which should catch more meteors, but is still high enough to be above the haze.
Use Sky Charts and Planetarium software
As mentioned that the radiant (from where they seem to appear) is the constellation of Perseus. Now how to find Perseus might be difficult for beginners or some people who are new to Astronomy. For finding constellations, we use Sky Charts or Sky maps or a computer software such as Stellarium. These methods can help you find the constellation and then you can start with your observation. I would prefer to use Stellarium. Install it take your laptop on the observation site and once find the location and try to remember the constellation outline, or shape and then you can close the laptop so you avoid light and distraction.
Point towards North and look for Perseus
Let’s take an example to help you more. Below is the sky chart of the North east side of the sky. The names written are the names of constellations (areas in sky that are made by collection of stars to easily identify places in the night sky. Think of them as Continents on the world map). The Radiant word in yellow color appears to be in the continent of Perseus. That means they seem to come from that constellation. So don’t look directly in that constellation but as described above in first paragraph of this section.
Don’t worry if you cannot find the Perseus constellation, look directly towards North and move your head upwards to see for the “M” shaped constellation “Cassiopeia”. See below. And now you can find Perseus yourself. J
Meteor Shower Calendar2013
If you have a smart phone especially Android, then you can download an application named “Meteor shower Calendar” for free and you can have the above chart right in your smart phone always with you. So now you have both the tools, a smart phone application to find the constellations and an application to find the meteor shower dates and a reminder.
Can we see fireballs?
A few bigger particles survive to within 12 miles (20km) of the surface. These typically produce “fireballs” that glow as bright as or brighter than Venus. And yes we can see them if we are lucky. They last more or sometimes less than a second but they are rare.
Observing Perseids Meteor Shower
The key to watching meteors; is to be comfortable and keep your gaze on the sky!
The above scene seems quite a peaceful and comfortable way to watch the meteor shower.
Find a place where you can see most of the sky and you should be away from city lights. You should stay in darkness for a prolonged period of time to get dark adaption and then should avoid lights.
The key is to be comfortable while watching. Dress warmly as it could be cold and even if not it, you will feel cold. Lie on the ground or a rocking chair with a blanket or something to cover you.
Try to keep your gaze on the sky as many people tend to miss a few amazing meteors that everyone else observing there see it. You might see airplanes and some artificial satellites.
Can we observe the Showers from Pakistan?
Pakistan lies in the Northern hemisphere and the Perseids meteor shower is visible in the Northern hemisphere. The best way to watch is to watch on 11th, 12th and 13th August after mid-might starting around 2pm till dawn from a dark location having clear and transparent skies.
“I observed a Meteor Shower Geminds Shower back in Dec 2010 from Pakistan and counted over 150+ meteors overnight.” –Abubaker Siddiq, Organizing Head of KaAS
A detailed log of that event can be found here:
Happy Meteor Watching!
Watching meteor shower requires patience, keen eye, dark adoption and clear sky and you will be rewarded with an experience that you will not forget that easily like I haven’t forgot the Geminds meteor watching 2 and a half years back. This year in Pakistan and nearby areas, we have clouds these days and in the upcoming week too during the peak, but never lose hope as the sky can get really clear and transparent. Who knows? Happy Star Gazing!
I will update this article hopefully after the Meteor Shower if I catch some showers, so stay tuned.
This article was submitted to Karachi Astronomers Society Blogs and it has been published there as well.