Stars above: Perseid meteor shower peaks mid-August
As meteor showers peak on a moonless night, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is hosting a public Perseids viewing party.
ANDREW FAZEKAS, SPECIAL TO THE MONTREAL GAZETTE
Updated: August 1, 2018
Skywatchers should get set for the best meteor shower of the year coming in August. The Perseids — is the cosmic old faithful — offering up a flurry of shooting stars across the late night skies. The shower’s peak performance is in the hours before dawn Aug. 13 but a trickle of meteors can be seen days before and after, even after nightfall.
Because the peak occurs on a moonless night this year, as many as 30 shooting stars may be visible from dark locations around the West Island region and up to 90 from the dark countryside — an hours’ drive from the city.
The meteor shower is caused by Earth slamming into a giant cloud of debris left behind by a passing comet. When sand-sized particles hit the atmosphere at speed s of 200,000 km per hour they burn up and create streaks of light in the upper atmosphere.
Look carefully and you will notice they all appear to radiate out from one spot in the sky – the shower’s namesake constellation, Perseus, the mythological hero. To catch the fireworks show it’s best to find a location with no direct lights and with a clear view of the overhead sky. No need for telescopes or binoculars — the unaided eye is best since the meteors will appear to zip across most of the sky. Face towards the eastern sky where the shower’s constellation will appear to rise after midnight.
Also making an appearance in the starry skies in August evening skies are the planets, Venus in the low west, while Mars and Saturn are high in the south after darkness falls.
About a half hour after sunset on Aug. 14 look for a thin waxing crescent moon joined by the super-bright evening star — the neighbouring planet Venus as both set in the west. On the night of Aug. 20 look for the waxing gibbous moon just to the upper right of golden Saturn, sitting in the constellation Sagittarius. Then on the evening of both Aug. 22 and 23 look for a waxing moon above the brilliant orange Mars high in the southern late night sky.
The Red Planet just passed opposition a few weeks ago and is currently shining at its brightest in 15 years. A global dust storm has been raging for two months on Mars, and has visibly changed the colour of the planet – from its usual orange-red to a golden-yellow. It’s amazing to think that despite Mars being over 58 million kilometres from Earth you can see the effect of this dust storm with nothing more than just your eyes!
The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada will be holding a public Perseids viewing party at the Morgan Arboretum in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue on Saturday, Aug. 11, starting at 7:30 p.m. with a talk followed by observations of the meteor shower.
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