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.
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.
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.
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.
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.