It’s not much of a Perseid photo, but it’s all I’ve got to show from last night. Conditions were far from ideal in Duluth for the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Lots of high clouds snuffed out the fainter meteors. Around 1 a.m. as rates were picking up, heavier clouds rolled in and I had to call it quits. How did you fare?
Not that there weren’t some great meteors – I saw 26 during about two hours of casual viewing; a couple were as bright as Jupiter and some came in pairs one right after the other. All were white or yellow and moved swiftly. Despite clouds, this rate seemed lower than expected.
Observers submitting reports to the International Meteor Organization’s Perseid website reported a maximum of 97 meteors per hour around 1:30 p.m. (CDT) Saturday August 11. For observers in North America overnight activity dropped to around 70-80 per hour. These numbers are what an observer would see under ideal dark skies with the radiant overhead. It’s known in the trade as the ZHR or zenithal hourly rate and determined by applying a mathematical formula to each individual’s meteor count.
Meteor shower watchers use the ZHR to standardize observations made by many different observers under different sky conditions. The actual number of meteors seen is nearly always lower, which is why you have to take meteor shower predictions with a grain of salt. By the way, you can still go out tonight to watch the shower. Numbers will be lower but the late-comers will still put on a show.
I finally turned in when the moon and Jupiter put a glow in the clouds to the east. Tomorrow morning if you’re willing to risk losing a bit of sleep, the moon and Venus will make a handsome couple at dawn. They’ll be joined by Orion – yes, Orion! – Aldebaran and the V-shaped Hyades star cluster next to Aldebaran. All the winter stars are on the move in the morning sky, itching to replace those of summer and fall. Watch out, snow will be here before we know it.
Mission controllers have been uploading new software into Curiosity’s “brain” the past couple days to ready it for roving and geological exploration. On the first leg of its Mars journey, all it could “think about” was making a safe landing and shooting the first photos. Now that that’s been accomplished, it’s time for baby to walk.
One of the more interesting recent images from the rover shows a channel in the rocky rim of Gale Crater where water once flowed. According to NASA: “This is the first view scientists have had of a fluvial system – one relating to a river or stream — from the surface of Mars. Known and studied since the 1970s beginning with NASA’s Viking missions, such networks date from a period in Martian history when water flowed freely across the surface.”
We’ve seen these water-carved channels from orbit many times, but a ground level view makes it easier to imagine a Mars soaked with streams, lakes and maybe even an ocean.