Some of the best things in life are free, and this is one of them. Every August 11th, just in time for my brother John’s birthday, The Perseid Meteor showers appear to radiate out of one of the first Greek constellations, Perseus. A prominent northern constellation, Perseus lies in the Milky Way between Cassiopeia and Auriga. So the mythology goes, Perseus was sent to slay Medusa, and returned the “Victorious Hero.”
We plan to gather in Rockport, a small Texas coastal town on August 10th, then plan for the BIG party which will appear most glorious (if the stars and clouds align) in the wee hours on the morning on the 11th.
The astronomy website, StarDate Online (http://stardate.org/nightsky/meteors) has a few tips for enjoying this ultimate “Star party.”
WHERE TO GO?
According to the site, “Get away from the glow of city lights and toward the constellation from which the meteors will appear to radiate.
For example, drive north to view the Leonids. Driving south may lead you to darker skies, but the glow will dominate the northern horizon, where Leo rises. Perseid meteors will appear to “rain” into the atmosphere from the constellation Perseus, which rises in the northeast around 11 p.m. in mid-August.
After you’ve escaped the city glow, find a dark, secluded spot where oncoming car headlights will not periodically ruin your sensitive night vision. Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites.
Once you have settled at your observing spot, lie back or position yourself so the horizon appears at the edge of your peripheral vision, with the stars and sky filling your field of view. Meteors will instantly grab your attention as they streak by.”
HOW WILL WE KNOW IF IT IS DARK ENOUGH?
“If you can see each star of the Little Dipper, your eyes have “dark adapted,” and your chosen site is probably dark enough. Under these conditions, you will see plenty of meteors.”
WHAT SHOULD WE BRING?
“Treat meteor watching like you would the 4th of July fireworks. Pack comfortable chairs, bug spray, food and drinks, blankets, plus a red-filtered flashlight for reading maps and charts without ruining your night vision. Binoculars are not necessary. Your eyes will do just fine.”
HOW CAN THE METEORS BE PHOTOGRAPHED?
According to Ian Ridpath’s Astronomy, astrophotography has tow main advantages over visual observing — “it keep a permanent record of what is seen, and long exposures can build up images of objects far fainter than those visible to the naked eye. Digital cameras and their CCD chips, make it possible can capture in a few seconds, what used to require many minutes on film.
A great resource for astrophotography, check out, the world at night website, http://www.twanight.org/newTWAN/index.asp.
Looking further into the beauties of the night sky, one becomes aware of the need for conservation of “Dark Sky Zones.” Unfortunately, as our cities gown, theses spaces disappear.
We have a gift in the night sky, full of stories and as visually compelling as our pop culture favorite, Star Wars. All we have to do is find a quiet, safe, dark space, and wait for the sun to go down, the moon to wane, and then – look up.