DALLAS, August 8, 2013 ―The Perseid Meteor Shower, a favorite of amateur astronomers, peaks on August 12th and 13th this year. The best viewing time for North America will be the pre-dawn hours of August 12th, when the Constellation Perseus is high in the sky.
The peak of the summer meteor shower season, the Perseid shower produce the most meteors of the year. Perseids are named because they seem to appear from the Perseus Constellation. The meteors are actually debris from the Swift-Tuttle Comet. It appears annually from about mid July to late August.
The popular opinion that the Perseids are also the most spectacular meteor shower has been confirmed by NASA.
According to Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteroid Environment Office, the Perseid meteor shower “produces more fireballs than any other.” Fireballs are meteors that are brighter than the planet Venus.
The best way to see the meteor shower is to get away from city lights and find a dark, unobstructed view. Although the shower gets it’s name from the Perseus Constellation, they will appear in all areas of the sky. The waxing crescent moon sets early and won’t hinder the season’s biggest show.
Scott Kardel, Managing Director of The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) notes that presence of numerous fireballs is good news for meteor watchers, but “light pollution from urban lights will certainly diminish the amount of meteors seen.”
Light pollution is “any adverse effect of artificial light, including sky glow, glare, light trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility at night, and energy waste,” according to the IDA. In addition to reducing the night sky visibility for both professional and amateur astronomers, this excessive light can harm wildlife and interfere with circadian rhythms—the natural body clock.
Because of the growth of cities and the increased lights from urban centers, the Milky Way along with other astronomical sights are disappearing from our night sky. Astronomers and other star gazers have made a push in recent years to reduce light pollution.
The IDA offers practical suggestions to improve the quality of the night sky. One of the focuses of dark sky advocates is to educate people about using only the light that’s necessary for the task. Kardel said, “Not just for meteor showers but for all nights be sure to turn off lights when they are not needed; make sure that lights are pointed downward and not into the sky.”
Their efforts have gained ground in the past few years. In addition to communities passing ordinances to help control the problem of light pollution, manufactures and retailers are offering more dark-sky friendly fixtures. “This allows people to replace bad light fixtures with ones that will have less negative impact on the night sky,” Kardel said.
While light pollution is an obstacle, there are options for would-be urban sky watchers. Kardel advises, “Check to see if any local astronomy clubs are holding star parties or if they suggest good local observing areas. Otherwise, seek out any parks or open spaces away from lights that also allow you to be there late in the night. Avoid any direct lights that might shine in your eyes. In all cases, no matter where you observe give your eyes time to adjust to the night - you’ll see more stars and meteors after they have done so.”
Other regularly occurring meteor showers include the Quadrantids at the beginning of the year, the Lyrids in April, the Orionids in October, the Leonids in November, and the Geminids and Ursids in December.
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