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Ideal viewing for Perseid meteor shower

Posted by David Epstein  August 10, 2013 01:50 PM

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Get your favorite lawn chair, a blanket and something to drink because the year's best meteor show is already underway. If you have seen a meteor or two the past couple of nights most likely you are seeing one of thousands of Perseid meteors that will streak across the sky this month. I'll be updating the details of the Perseid meteors and the forecast on Twitter at @growingwisdom Please follow me there. Feel free to comment or ask questions too.
Perseid meteor shower.jpg

While the peak of the meteor shower will take place in the wee hours Monday and Tuesday mornings, the shower itself started days ago and will continue much of the month. Why the next few nights are called the peak is those nights have the highest number of meteors per hour, but I all but guarantee you will see some meteors if you are up watching tonight. The best time is after midnight to view the meteors and just before dawn, but even before that time you will see some.
moon phase.png

In order to see the meteors you need to find a place with a view of the northeast sky. The good news is that the moon is setting in the western sky early enough this weekend that it won't be a factor. You can see the time of moonrise and moonset above. These are times for the northeast section of the USA, your times may vary an hour or two either way, but the moon won't be a factor for anyone later tonight or the next couple of days.

perseid night.jpg
The reason we see these meteors every year in such a predictable manner is because the Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet is the owner of the Perseid meteor shower. Debris from this comet litters the comet's orbit, but we don't really get into the meat of the comet rubble until after the first week of August. What you are seeing are small fragments from Comet Swift-Tuttle hurl into the Earth's upper atmosphere at some 210,000 kilometers (130,000 miles) per hour, lighting up the nighttime with fast-moving Perseid meteors. Since the exact density of the rubble isn't predictable some years are better than others with elevated numbers of meteors. There have been years where the number of meteors has exceeded 100 per hour!
perseid best viewing 2013.png
The orbit of the Comet Swift-Tuttle is extremely oblong around the sun. The comet journey takes it from a point closet to the sun, and inside the orbit of Earth to as far away as outside the orbit of Pluto. This is when it's farthest from the sun. The total time for this to take place is a whopping 133 years. As the comet, a dirty snowball of space rocks and debris gets close to the sun it warms and softens up the ices in the comet. As this happens fragments of fresh material get released into the tail of the comet and those pieces are what we will eventually see streaming across the summer night sky. Comet Swift-Tuttle last reached perihelion or the closest point to the sun back in December 1992 and will do so next in July 2126. You won't be around to see it, but your great grandchildren will likely read about it on their Google glasses or embedded brain chip or something.
Gardening this week
If you have a sunny spot and a good size container, how about planting carrots? Carrots can be successfully grown in containers and you will be surprised how many you will get. One of the most important things is to not over water the soil. Check out the video below showing how I recently planted a container of carrots.

I'll be updating the details of the weather on Twitter at @growingwisdom Please follow me there. Feel free to comment or ask questions too.

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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