Fred Barrett | Aug 07, 2019
Happy Perseid Meteor shower! Every amateur stargazer worth their love of the heavens looks upwards every August for the spectacular sky shower centered in the constellation Perseus. It’s the annual big one and this year it should be no different. Earth has entered the debris ring of the comet Swift-Tuttle. The material cast off by this comet is particularly large and there’s plenty of it. Although the Moon will be full around its peak on the evening of August 12-13 and some of its smaller streaks will be lost in the moon glow, the Perseids have an unusual abundance of larger debris particles which in turn produce a more abundant number of fireballs – more than any other meteor shower! Most comets that provide debris for meteor showers are rather small with diameters of about 2 or 3 kilometers but Swift-Tuttle is a giant at 26 kilometers in diameter and casts off many more particles of debris. It’s estimated to be 3 times larger than the giant that created the mass extinction event that wiped out a huge swath of life 60 million years ago and ended the dinosaur’s rule on Earth. The shower is a longer than usual one and lasts for weeks. There will be eye candy well before the peak and it will continue for a few weeks afterwards. Start looking a few days before the peak when the Moon is less bright and especially a few days after. I remember one Persid shower a few years ago when I had meteors streaking from the sky all around me. I didn’t even go to bed that night. I just watched and watched until the Sun came up. The best time to look to the sky is 2 am until sunrise when Perseus and the radiant is higher in the sky. Of course the meteor trails can appear in all parts of the sky so start observing as soon as the Sun sets. There will be plenty of action!
Jupiter and Saturn will be high in south as the Sun sets through August. I always remind you that the dance of Jupiter’s 4 most prominent moons is always a joy to follow each night. They are easily observed in binoculars. Mercury will be very prominent in the east below Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini just before sunrise. Have a look if you’re out enjoying the Perseids.
August 7th: First quarter Moon.
August 9th: The Moon passes 2 degrees north of Jupiter.
August 13th: Perseid meteor shower peaks.
August 15th: Full Moon. This full Moon is known by first nations people around the great lakes as the Full Sturgeon Moon. These large fish were abundant to catch during August as their breeding and feeding needs brought them within easier reach. It’s also known as the Full Red Moon. Who hasn’t heard of the hazy lazy days of summer? Particles in the air filter the light of the Moon to a red colour. Corn is ripening and another name is the Full Green Corn Moon. Great! Red skies, fish fries and corn on the cob! Yum!
August 17th: The Moon is at apogee (furthest) – 403,560 kilometers.
August 23rd: Last quarter Moon.
August 30th: New Moon and it’s at perigee (closest) – 355,100 kilometers.
It’s a great month for astronomy so ‘Keep looking up’!
“The Beginner’s Observing Guide by Leo Enright is an invaluable companion for Skies! Fred.adventures in the sky. It also contains useful star charts. It can be ordered from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada at www.rasc.ca/publications. A subscription to our very own excellent Canadian astronomy magazine “SkyNews” can be arranged at the RASC website as well.
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