The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight into early Sunday morning and if the sky above you is clear you are sure to enjoy a spectacular astronomical show. While the meteors are the main billing tonight, there are a few other players on the stellar stage. Look to the east early tomorrow morning before dawn as Jupiter, then the moon and finally Venus will rise, creating a nice diagonal line. Of course with any of these events in the sky the weather is the most important variable. It won't matter how great the meteors are if it's overcast. Much of Texas, the Ohio Valley, Tennessee, the northern parts of Alabama, Mississippi and the Rockies look to have favorable sky conditions. parts of Florida and a good deal of the West Coast will also be mainly clear.
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Looking at the latest satellite photo shows us where the clouds are now and will help forecast where they will be overnight for the show. The satellite image below will change as it gets dark later tonight. However, if you notice clouds now there is a good chance you will miss the show, but some types of cumulus clouds melt away with the setting sun. I circled areas most likely to see or partially see the meteors. Truthfully, you really need clear skies to be wowed. You can catch a few in the fair to good area if you are lucky, but it's much more difficult. Also, head to the darkest place you can find. Light pollution is a killer for these events.
If you live where it is expected to be cloudy, like here in the northeast, it is still worth looking up later tonight. Last evening we had big thunderstorms in the area but early this morning it cleared enough to see some of the meteors in the Massachusetts area. The same thing could very easily happen across the northeast later tonight.
This image gives a good idea of who will have clouds and who won't tonight. Remember, be patient as clouds move and while it can be cloudy for few minutes, you only need a short window to have a memorable experience. This map is based on a computer model. I recommend using both maps and your own common sense before venturing outside.
What to expect
Give your eyes about 10 minutes to adjust to the dark. 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. Tonight you can 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 at early at 10PM to 11PM. The planetary show I wrote about early is around for the next week. I think in some ways that is even a better show because if it's clear, you see it, no waiting!
Smarthphone and social media meteor shower
NASA wants your help in counting the number of meteors. You can download an app "Meteor Counter" for free in the Android Marketplace and Apple's App Store and then report the data. You can even "Tweet" your findings using the hashtag symbol # and the keyword perseids.
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.
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