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Perseid meteor shower this weekend

Posted by David Epstein  August 9, 2012 12:54 PM

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The annual Perseid meteor shower is this weekend. You can expect to see up to one meteor each minute streaking across the sky. Meteors are tiny fragments of minerals that burn up upon hitting our atmosphere. Some Meteorites can be comprised up of minerals rich in silicon and oxygen. Other meteorites consist mainly of iron and nickel, while some are combinations of all four elements. Most are surprisingly tiny about the size of a grain of rice. They burn up in our atmosphere 30-60 miles above the surface of the earth. If a meteor does make it all the way to the ground, we call it a meteorite. If you are interested in gardening, science or weather check out my Twitter feed
at @growingwisdom

The series of maps below will help you know if the sky will be clear the next three nights. The first two maps show various station plots across the country. On each plot, the top number is the temperature and bottom number is your dew point. (click the map to enlarge) The circle represents the sky condition and for the meteor shower is the most important forecast variable. If the circle is filled in black, your area is forecast to be cloudy. If the circle is white, then your area is forecast to be clear. The other line coming out of the circle is the wind. The long line points to where the wind is coming from. The smaller lines coming off the big line to the right represent the wind speed, each line is 10kts. The third map below shows the predicted moisture at the level clouds form. This map is valid for Saturday evening and gives a good idea of who is going to have the best viewing that night. The closer to the darker pink/purple areas you are the drier the air. If your area is colored in light blue, that mean the air will have a lot of moisture and clouds. (the other map isn't available yet for three days away).

thursday 2am.gif

Click on the images for a larger size.
friday 2amEDT.gif
moisture for perseid.gif
We often hear about a meteor shower occurring on one or two nights. The reality is that these shows begin way before they peak. This week the Perseid's are at their maximum on the night of the 11th and early morning of the 12th. You will, if it's clear and you get away from light pollution, be able to see shooting stars tonight and through the weekend. These pieces of debris are hurling trough space at 37 miles per second or about 133,200 miles per hour. At this speed they could cross the entire country in under 2 minutes. Not all meteors travel at the same speed. A fast meteor could go from the earth to the moon in about a minute and a half. That isn't as fast as the speed of light of course. If someone turned on a light on the moon you would see it a second and a half later here on earth.

Saturday and Sunday nights the moon will be in a waning crescent phase, therefore moonlight won't hamper viewing. The meteors tend to streak across the sky, but you will want to look toward the Perseus constellation, which is in the northeast part of the sky and forms an inverted "Y" shape. (see image below) In the southern hemisphere you will have to look just above the northern horizon to see the meteors.

What to expect
If you are watching the show with kids you can have them try to find a satellite while waiting for a meteor. Satellites are quite easy to spot as they look like shooting stars but move across the sky at a much slower speeds. It can take a minute or more for a satellite to cross your field of view. I use the opportunity to talk about the earth, orbits and other planets to children during these events. On Saturday the 11th, leading into the 12th, expect about 25-60 meteors per hour. You won't see the meteors evenly spread out over time. You may see nothing for five minutes and then four or more in a row a minute later. Lie on a blanket and look up rather than stand. If you stand with your neck tilted up, you will have neck issues in the morning. On Sunday night, heading into the morning of the 13th there will be fewer meteors per hour, but still a nice show. The best time to see this will be around 2AM-3AM, but if you don't want to wait till then it's still worthwhile once it gets dark.

perseid-meteor-shower-2012-sky-map.jpg


Gardening

From mid-August through until October (November for some plants) is perfect for planting. This is the time of year you can see where you have some gaps in the garden that need filling. Also start thinking about bulbs that might need to be ordered now.
Below is a video on a great plant I put in the garden last year at this time. The plants are looking terrific this year and had a great spring bloom.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this blog or any others. Please follow me on Twitter at @growingwisdom and check out my latest videos at GrowingWisdom.com

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

David Epstein has been a professional meteorologist and horticulturalist for three decades. David spent 16 years at WCVB in Boston and currently freelances for WGME in Portland, ME. In 2006, More »
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