Watch for meteors this weekendJuly 27th, 2012 at 10:33 pm by Jim Spencer under Weather
Our friends at EarthSky tell us this is a great weekend for meteor viewing.
Here are the details, courtesy earthsky.org:
Image Credit: Stéphane Guisard / ESO
Okay, here’s the scoop. Every year, two big meteor showers combine around now to create wonderful northern summer meteor displays. They are the Delta Aquarids and the famous Perseids. The Delta Aquarids ramble along steadily in late July and early August every year, without a very definite peak. The Perseids peak every year around the mornings of August 11-13. But, every year, you have to watch out for the moon. And the moon in 2012 is creating some very specific windows for optimum meteor-watching. One of those is this weekend – July 28-29, assuming you watch between midnight and dawn.
As we just said, the Delta Aquarid shower rambles along in late July and early August without a very definite peak. But this weekend – July 28 and 29, 2012 – is a good time to watch because the moon will be absent from the morning sky. It’s a waxing gibbous moon that you’ll see in the sky around now. It’ll be up mostly in the evening, leaving the hours between moonset and dawn moon-free for the Delta Aquarid meteors. How many might you see? No way to know. But you might see some!
The really big meteor event of any Northern Hemisphere summer is always the Perseid meteor shower in August. It’s reliable, and rich with meteors that fall in many colors. It very typically produces about 60 meteors per hour, or several every few minutes. The Perseids will peak on the mornings – not the evenings – of August 12 and 13 in 2012. The moon will be in a waning crescent phase, rising around midnight. While the moon will somewhat obscure the 2012 Perseid display, it won’t hinder the Perseids nearly as much as the supermoon obscured the last meteor shower, the Eta Aquarids, in May. Plus the moon has a special treat in store for meteor-watchers in 2012.
European Southern Observatory Photo Ambassador Stéphane Guisard caught this Perseid meteor at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile in 2010. Via Wikimedia Commons.
A 2009 Perseid meteor – multi-colored, long, beautiful – streaking along to the left of the summer Milky Way. Image Credit: Brocken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons
On the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13, 2012, the moon will be sweeping past the sky’s brightest planets – Venus and Jupiter – in the eastern predawn sky. It doesn’t get any better than meteors plus moon and planets. And especially these two planets, which are super bright and wonderful in the morning sky now. So mark your calendars!
Radiant point of Perseid shower: northeast after midnight, closer to overhead before dawn.
The Perseids radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus the Hero. You don’t need to know Perseus to watch the shower because the meteors appear in all parts of the sky. The Perseids often peak at 50 or more meteors per hour in a dark sky. The Perseids tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight, and typically produce the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn. These meteors are often bright and frequently leave persistent trains. Read more about the 2012 Perseid meteor shower here.
Find out about meteor showers for the rest of the year: EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2012
These two showers combine every year in late July and August to give Northern Hemisphere skywatchers their best meteor display of the year. Why so good in the Northern Hemisphere, and not as good in the Southern Hemisphere?
Two reasons. First, the constellation Perseus – radiant point of the Perseid shower – is fairly far to the north on the sky’s dome. From the far Southern Hemisphere, this shower’s radiant point can’t be seen, and any meteors that are visible to Southern Hemisphere observers have to make their way up and over the horizon. It’s true that the Delta Aquarid shower favors the Southern Hemisphere, and the tropical latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. But the Delta Aquarids don’t produce the same memorable displays as the Perseids.
Second, late July and early August is summertime for the Northern Hemisphere. And no matter how diehard a meteor watcher you may be, kicking back on a summer night in your lawn chair or blanket on the ground is always more fun than huddling in a sleeping bag to watch meteors. Southern Hemisphere skywatchers sometimes tell us their best meteor shower of the year is the Geminids in December, which comes during their summer. Read more about the Geminids here.
Bottom line: The next meteor shower in 2012 is two showers, the Delta Aquarids and the Perseids. Watch for a display of Delta Aquarids around this weekend (July 28-29, 2012) in the hours between midnight and dawn. Which morning will be best? Any of these upcoming mornings would be a good time to try – Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday – around the July 28-29 weekend. The moon will be gone from the predawn sky, leaving the sky dark for meteor-watching. Otherwise, wait until the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13 to watch for Perseid meteors (with maybe a few Delta Aquarids scattered in, still). On those mornings, as an added treat, the moon will be sweeping past Venus and Jupiter in the eastern predawn sky. It’ll be great.