As the sun has now set across much of the USA, some of you may be gearing up for a night of meteor watching. Perfect viewing weather for the annual Perseid meteor shower blankets most of southern and central New England with clear skies and comfortably cool temperatures. This is exactly the night you want in August for ideal viewing conditions. At their peak, you could see up to 50 to 70 meteors per hours in the wee hours of Monday morning.
For frequent updates about other astronomical events, the weather and gardening tips find me on Twitter at @growingwisdom Please follow me there. Feel free to comment or ask questions too.
The best time to see this meteor shower will be from about 11PM tonight to 4AM Monday. However, if you don’t want to stay up that late, you can certainly see a few meteors streak across the sky once it gets dark. You will just have to be a bit more patient earlier in the evening.
Monday will start as a carbon copy of today with wall to wall sunshine, low humidity and cool morning temperatures. Clouds will tend to increase a bit during the afternoon. Highs will reach the lower 80s inland with cooler air along the immediate coast. Humidity rises Monday night and with the increase in moisture clouds will arrive. Monday night and early Tuesday will not be great for meteors in this part of the country.
Tuesday itself brings a lot of clouds, muggy weather and scattered showers. The good news is the rest of the week looks sunny and dry. It will be a bit cooler than you would expect the second week of August as highs stay in the 70s much of the week and overnight lows fall back to the 50s.
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.
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!
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.