The Moon is kind of spoiling it a bit, but I’ve been seeing them here in my light-polluted suburb; if you have clear skies where you are, take fifteen minutes or half an hour or so to lie on the lawn and look at the sky. 😉 The Perseids are a fairly spread-out shower, so if tonight is a bust, give tomorrow a go, or even the night after.
Or, if the weather’s never gonna cooperate, there’s another way to observe them: by listening for the radio echoes as they trail plasma through the upper atmosphere. Here are a couple of live meteor radio streams you can listen to:
This one has the radio data represented visually rather than audibly:
This is debris from Comet Halley, the most famous of all short-period comets. Dawn this morning was actually the best time to look, but it’s a fairly drawn-out shower, so tomorrow morning should be worth a look-see as well, if your weather is cooperating — though bear in mind that it’s not one of the heavier showers. You might see a handful in a hour, or 25 if you’re very lucky and in a very nice dark sky location. The radiant point of this shower is in the constellation Orion, which is one of the easiest to recognize in the night sky. If you are looking at Orion, and his belt is in the middle with Betelgeuse (the reddish one) to the upper left, the radiant will be up and to the left of there.
Viewers reported a very disappointing performance by the meteor shower (peaking at 5-10 visible meteors per hour in dark sky sites), but in fact it really was as intense as predicted — it’s just that since nobody could know ahead of time how big the particles were, nobody knew they’d be too small to be seen. The vast majority of meteors detected by sensors were 6th-7th magnitude, too faint to be seen even under the darkest of dark skies. But radar tracking sites detected an intense burst of meteors all the same, as that can detect them even when they are extremely faint. The bright pink spot to the north in this image is the Camelopardalids, detected by the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar.
So they were there after all, but don’t stay up late to see them the next time they come around. 😉
Well, a possible new shower; since this debris stream has never been encountered by the Earth before, we don’t really know what it will be like. But some advance models suggest it could be quite spectacular! So if the weather permits on the evening of May 24, go outside and look. 😉 Scientists are calling this shower the May Camelopardalids, since they’ll seem to originate in Camelopardalis, and it’s a stream of debris from Comet 209P/LINEAR. Will it be spectacular or will it be a dud? Only one way to tell; go look. 😉
NASA Science News: A New Meteor Shower In May?
Have you ever seen a shooting star? If you haven’t, now’s a good time to fix that. Every year, Earth passes through a stream of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, and NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office is already reporting hits. (Hits to our atmosphere, that is. The debris is so tiny that it doesn’t reach the ground.) Because of Earth’s motion relative to the debris stream, the meteor trails all appear to point to the constellation Perseus, so this particular shower is called the Perseids. The Perseids are one of the most reliable meteor showers of all, typically maxing out at 100 per hour. (We’re not to that point yet; the peak of the shower is predicted for the night of August 12-13.) And it’s the best shower that occurs in summer, when it’s actually pleasant to lie out under the stars. 😉
To watch meteors, you do not need a telescope. In fact, you don’t *want* a telescope for this, because it’s no good for meteor viewing. You want to see as much sky as possible at once, so what you want to do is spread a blanket out on the ground and lie on your back, or use a reclining lawn chair. Get comfortable, and wait. If you can find a particularly dark sky for this, you’ll see more meteors, since light pollution can wash out fainter meteors.
For more information, NASA has a nice article about why the Perseids are so reliable, Spaceweather.com has a live gallery of user-submitted images of meteors, and Space Weather Radio will let you hear live radar returns from incoming Perseids — the only way to observe them in daylight, or when it’s cloudy.