Dale Flippo

Meteor showers are one of the best ways to introduce others to astronomy. It was the Perseid meteor shower that sparked my interest in astronomy. To this day, it is the one meteor shower that I look forward to watching. 

The first written record of the Perseid meteor shower was found in a Chinese manuscript from 36 A.D.  It wasn’t until the 19th Century that the cause of meteor showers was discovered. Giovanni Schiaparelli made the link between the orbit comet Swift-Tuttle in 1862 and the meteor shower that occurred each August. The orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle is 133 years. Its last appearance was in 1992.

The Perseid meteor shower generally starts in mid-July and peaks during the night of Aug. 12. The maximum number of meteors that can be seen at the peak is around 100. It can be more or less, depending upon the parts of leftover material from the comet and the phase of the moon. The point of origin is the constellation Perseus. 

The debris trail from comets provides the material for meteor showers. When the Earth passes through one of these pockets of comet debris, the meteors become visible by burning up in the atmosphere.

The early hours of the mornings of Aug. 12 and 13 will be the best times to view the Perseid meteor shower. The moon, which will set around 2:30 a.m., will not interfere with this year’s shower. 

All that is needed to watch a meteor shower is a chaise lounge chair and your eyes. Find a dark location and a clear horizon. Lie back and scan the sky from your zenith (directly overhead) to the western horizon. The Perseid meteors will trace a trail in the same direction in the sky. They will be bright and will move very fast.  

The Perseid meteor shower even found its way into popular music. John Denver wrote part of the song “Rocky Mountain High” after watching the Perseid meteor shower. The line, ‘’I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky,” comes from his experience.

Along with the meteor shower this month, both Jupiter and Saturn will be visible after sunset. They will be in the southeast part of the sky. Both planets will be fairly close together. They are best viewed with a telescope. On the evenings of Aug. 28 and 29, the moon will be close to both planets.

The moon will be very close to Mars on the morning of Aug. 9.  

Venus will be very bright in the morning skies this month. It will reach it highest part of the morning sky on Aug. 12.  On the morning of Aug. 15, the moon will be very close to Venus.  

The Springfield Astronomical Society meets every fourth Tuesday of the month the Library Center at 4653 S. Campbell Ave., Springfield. Please check our website for our next scheduled meeting (http://www.springfieldastronomy.org).

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