The weekend of August 11-13 will be a great time for heading out of town to the
great outdoors, especially at night. This is the weekend of the annual Perseid meteor
shower and during the peak nights of Aug 11/12 and Aug 12/13; more than 100 meteors
(shooting stars) can be seen per hour.
The shower is the result of Earth encountering the gritty debris of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.
These meteors will strike the atmosphere at around 60 km/sec and cause long streaks
which completely vapourize. The average particle size is that of large sand grain
but some small pea gravel size meteors can cause bright fireballs that light up
the sky and ground.
It is best to head out of town to enjoy the dark skies with the beautiful Milky
Way stretching from the south and continuing overhead. The planet Saturn is immersed
in the band of star above the constellation Sagittarius. Find a wide open area and
bring a lawn chair, snacks and bug spray but respect trespassing on private property
and fields. The planet Mars will keep you company all night long as it low in the
south east as the sky darkens. New Moon occurs on the 11th so it will not wash out
the sky with its brilliance like other years.
The Backyard Astronomer
Known as "The Backyard Astronomer", Gary Boyle is an astronomy educator, guest speaker
and monthly columnist for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. He has been
interviewed on Canadian radion stations and local Ottawa TV. He is now honoured
with renaming of Asteroid (22406) Garyboyle. Follow him on Twitter: @astroeducator or www.wondersofastronomy.com