Beautiful Mornings For Skywatchers; Perseid Meteor Shower Warming Up

This morning’s lunar crescent through the branches of a spruce tree. The crescent is lit by the sun; the remainder by light reflected from the Earth to the moon and back again. Credit: Bob King

Is there a more peaceful experience than standing under a dawning sky with a crescent moon to greet your gaze? I hope you’ve had a clear morning recently to follow the march of the moon toward the trio of Jupiter, Mars and Mercury.

View to the east 50 minutes before sunrise this morning shows the moon and a beautiful planet lineup. Credit: Bob King

For skywatchers in across North America the International Space Station started up a round of bright passes at dawn last week and will continue through the third week of August. Add in the first  Perseid meteors and there’s always something to see in the greatest wilderness that ever was – the night sky.

A 2-minute time exposure caught the International Space Station traveling to the southeast to the right of the moon (overexposed) and Jupiter. Click photo to find when the station is visible over your town. Credit: Bob King

The Perseid shower will peak on Monday morning August 12 with 60-80 meteors per hour expected from a dark location. After the Geminids of December, this is the best meteor shower of the year and the most easily watched. No need for a heavy parka in August. Just put on a sweater and relax in the recliner or hot tub as hot bits of Comet Swift-Tuttle race to oblivion overhead. We’ll have more on the shower and what to expect in a few days.

Perseid meteors appear to radiate for a point in the sky just below the W of Cassiopeia in the constellation Perseus the Hero. Watch for early arrivals tonight through next week. Created with Stellarium

Like many meteor showers, it’s a good idea to watch for early arrivals a few days in advance. I saw a Perseid two nights ago and have heard reports of several nice fireballs. Characteristic of the shower, many meteors leave streaks or what astronomers call “trains”. These may look like dust trails but they’re glowing “tubes” of ionized air molecules.

I leave you with our good friend Orion the Hunter peeking over the eastern horizon about 75 minutes before sunrise this morning. Can you find the famed trio of stars that form his Belt? Credit: Bob King

The meteoroid – what a bit of comet grit is called before it becomes a meteor – plows into the air at many thousands of miles per hour, energizing the molecules. Upon return to their rest states, each gives off a brief flash of light contributing to the evanescent train.

7 Responses

  1. Brad Werner

    Last weekend I had a fire going late into the night in Grand Forks, ND and probably saw 4 meteors within a course of an hour. Was this Perseid already last weekend?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Brad,
      You probably saw a mix of random meteors (not connected to a particular shower) and possibly a Delta Aquarid or two and maybe a Perseid. Last weekend would have been a little early for most Perseids.

  2. Sean

    Finally caught Mars and Jupiter (1st time since around the “triple conjunction” for Jupiter, quite a bit longer since Mars) last weekend in the AM sky (lots of clouds around lately esp. in the AM twilight on weekends, and i don’t do nearly as much stargazing during the week), and was happy to catch daylight Venus today (easily seen 5 minutes prior to sunset) for the 1st time this apparition. Hope to catch Mercury 2moro AM perhaps if the clouds permit, as i haven’t yet seen it this apparition. Take care Bob.

    1. astrobob

      Thanks Sean for sharing your observations. By chance I also happened to catch Venus at the very same time as you.

  3. Natasha O

    Last night we spotted several meteors from Perseid in northern MN. It was a beautiful sky and although it was the early for a good sight of meteors, we were able to see quite a few meteors flying by. Great night with the kids. Cool and clear night in beautiful Breezy Point, MN.

Comments are closed.