Astronomy Now Home
Home Magazine Sky Chart Resources Store

On Sale Now!



The August 2014 issue of Astronomy Now is on sale! Order direct from our store (free 1st class post & to UK addresses). The Astronomy Now iPad/iPhone editions are now available worldwide on the App Store.



Top Stories



Earthshine used to test life detection method
...By imagining the Earth as an exoplanet, scientists observing our planet's reflected light on the Moon with ESO's Very Large Telescope have demonstrated a way to detect life on other worlds...
  READ MORE

Solid buckyballs discovered in space
...Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have detected a particular type of molecule, given the nickname “buckyball”, in a solid form for the first time...
  READ MORE

Steamy water-world gets the Hubble treatment
...Hubble Space Telescope observations of a 7 Earth-mass planet find an unusual water-rich world swathed in a thick, steamy atmosphere...
  READ MORE








The nights of the Perseids
KEITH COOPER
ASTRONOMY NOW

Posted: August 11, 2009


Bookmark and Share

The meteor season will explode into full swing over the next few days as the Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak over the nights of 11-12 and 12-13 August. Despite being hampered by the glare of the last quarter moon rising around 10pm BST, the Perseids are full of fast, bright meteors with long trains shooting through the night sky. If you can blot out some of the Moon’s light behind a tree or nearby building, observers should be able to see at least one meteor per minute, and quite possibly up to 100 per hour. The actual peak in activity falls at 4pm BST on the afternoon of 12 August, meaning the nights before and after should be equally productive.

The Perseid radiant. AN graphic by Greg Smye-Rumsby.

The weather forecast is patchy for parts of the UK, but generally the warm summer nights make the Perseids one of the more attractive prospects for casual observers. The actual meteors themselves are tiny particles of dust left behind by the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, shooting from a radiant (direction) in the constellation Perseus, hence the name. However, the best regions of the sky to look are towards Cygnus and the Summer Triangle during the late evening, and Pegasus during the wee hours, as the meteors shoot through those constellations.

The Perseid meteor shower actually lasts from late July until the third weak of August but, aside from a couple of days either side of maximum, the meteor rates are low with a mere five or so per hour. There are also the sporadic background meteors that shoot through the sky every now and then in random directions, just bits of space dust that get in the way of Earth’s passage through space, but it is important not to confuse these with those of the Perseids.

Staring up at the sky constantly for an hour or two will almost certainly result in a cricked neck, so here are some tips for more comfortable viewing! First, break out the deck chairs or garden recliners from the garage – they’ll allow you to sit at an angle staring upwards. Second, wrap up warm – as pleasant as summer nights can be, if you’re going to sit outside for several hours you will begin to get cold as the night progresses. Taking a flask or some snacks outside with you might help too, so you don’t have to keep going back into the house and ruining your dark adaptation.

While you can just sit back and enjoy the event, some observers also like to record what they see, to help monitor the behaviour of the shower from year to year. Some Perseids can be as bright as the brightest stars, such as Vega (magnitude 0) or Deneb (magnitude +1.26) in Vega and Cygnus respectively, or as bright as Jupiter (magnitude -2.9 low in the constellation Capricornus) or even Venus (magnitude -4 in early morning skies). Some leave behind lingering orange trails or on odd occasions appear as fireballs.

Whether you decide to record the meteor shower or just sit back and take in the view is up to you, just make sure you enjoy it. You can download a PDF form on which to record your observations, and the British Astronomical Association’s Meteor Section are always glad to receive reports from observers – you can find details on their website.

The Planets
From tiny Mercury to distant Neptune and Pluto, The Planets profiles each of the Solar System's members in depth, featuring the latest imagery from space missions. The tallest mountains, the deepest canyons, the strongest winds, raging atmospheric storms, terrain studded with craters and vast worlds of ice are just some of the sights you'll see on this 100-page tour of the planets.
 GET YOUR COPY

Hubble Reborn
Hubble Reborn takes the reader on a journey through the Universe with spectacular full-colour pictures of galaxies, nebulae, planets and stars as seen through Hubble's eyes, along the way telling the dramatic story of the space telescope, including interviews with key scientists and astronauts.
 GET YOUR COPY

3D Universe
Witness the most awesome sights of the Universe as they were meant to be seen in this 100-page extravaganza of planets, galaxies and star-scapes, all in 3D!
 GET YOUR COPY


HOME | NEWS ARCHIVE | MAGAZINE | SOLAR SYSTEM | SKY CHART | RESOURCES | STORE | SPACEFLIGHT NOW

© 2014 Pole Star Publications Ltd.