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Perseid Meteor Shower 2011

Out there somewhere in our solar system is a 26 kilometre wide comet, a chunk of dirty ice on a 130 year orbit of the Sun. This giant cosmic snowball was thought to have been born in the Oort Cloud, a vast spherical region of icy objects nearly 6 trillion miles from the Sun, almost a light year. With a total mass of roughly 40 times that of Earth, the Oort Cloud is so far out that the Sun’s gravity is weak but the gravity of nearby stars can have an effect, nudging these remote icy chunks out of position and sending them on a long  journey towards the inner solar system. One of these mysterious icy travellers is called Comet Swift-Tuttle, much larger than the object thought to have spoiled the party for the dinosaurs, and the largest known chunk of space stuff to make repeated passes near the Earth. Although you can breath a sigh of relief, as it poses no degree of threat for at least a few thousand years, so we get to see its associated meteor shower without that bothersome mass extinction. Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last made its closest approach to Earth in 1992, is the particular comet in question that we’re interested in for August as it produces the Perseid meteor shower.

As this comet makes its way around the solar system it leaves a trail of dusty material in its wake. Every August as the Earth passes through this debris stream we get to see probably the most reliable and best meteor showers of the year. The fine grains zip through the atmosphere at 130,000 miles per hour, at a rate of up to 90 to 100 an hour. As with anything in astronomy it’s always best to view a meteor shower from a darker location, and hopefully with the bright Moon out of the way.

OK, so here’s where your view of the August 2011 Perseids may be taken down a slight notch as compared to other years. The Moon normally gives cracking views in your binoculars or telescope, but our old friend Lunar is nobody’s friend when it comes to meteor showers as its light can wash out all but the brighter of those spectacular shooting stars. This year we have a full Moon unfortunately on the two nights of the shower’s peak. This peak time is during the pre dawn hours of Friday the 12th and Saturday the 13th of August…so that’ll be the 11th beyond midnight, and the 12th beyond midnight. You have more chance of seeing meteors in the small hours as Earth faces into the shower during this time, resulting in the chance of seeing more and faster meteors. The Perseid meteor shower actually starts from the end of July and goes up until late August, but peaks on the mornings of the 12th and 13th of August. So keep your eyes peeled for Perseids in the weeks either side of the peak too. You’ll see the the Perseids seeming to radiate from, you’ve guessed it…the constellation Perseus. Although you can actually catch them streaking across any part of the sky, they’ll just seem to be coming from the direction of that constellation. Look to the north-east after dark and you’ll see Perseus rising, it then moves higher to the east before dawn. Even though the Moon will be in the sky during the peak, don’t let that dissuade you as it’s still well worth getting outside…don’t miss it.

The great thing about meteor showers is that the only equipment needed is your eyeballs, so everyone can join in. Get some friends and make a night of it, and the best thing about the Perseids is they conveniently come at the best time of the year when it’s nice and warm (hopefully). Meteor watching requires a lot of patience, but if you sit back, relax and put some time in you should be rewarded. There’s actually another night sky attraction to admire while you’re waiting for shooting stars, and that’s the solar system’s heavyweight Jupiter. The gas giant starts rising from the east shortly before midnight on the dates of the meteor shower peak. Check it out naked eye, but if you happen to have some binoculars with you grab a quick peek at the stormy planet blazing brightly at magnitude -2.36, and get a look at those moons. Don’t get too distracted though as you’ll want to keep an eye out for Comet Swift- Tuttle’s fireworks.

Don’t forget to get involved with Meteorwatch on Twitter…tweet your location and how many meteors you observe, and see your results on the Meteormap. Good luck !

Article by John Brady of Astronomy Central

Perseids and the Weather

One of the biggest factors when observing meteor showers or not in some cases, is the weather.

Meteor showers are usually best seen a few days before and right up until their peak, so being able to plan your observing around the weather is essential.

Luckily the Met Office have developed a new interactive website: WOW Weather Observations Website, where users of the site can enter their own observations and the results will be shown on a map. Very similar to the meteorwatch meteor map.

This new tool, will be excellent for planning your meteorwatch, Astronomy, or any other weather dependent activity.

Register and start enjoying WOW.

The Meteorwatch Meteor Map

You are outside, the night sky is clear, you look up and then WOOSH! You see a shooting star!

If you see a shooting star this week will probably be a Perseid from the Perseid meteor shower.

Like most things in astronomy, you don’t need expensive telescopes or equipment to enjoy the Perseids; you just need to be comfortable and patient. Please see here on how to enjoy observing meteors.

When you see a meteor, share your experience on twitter by tweeting what you saw for the meteor map.

 

The meteor map displays tweets of meteors seen by location and is very simple and fun to use.

Tweet the hashtag #meteorwatch then the first part of your postcode, then your country code and then optionally how many meteors you saw. Your results will then be displayed on the map shortly afterwards. Instructions can be found at the bottom of the map page.

Let’s see how many people saw a meteor or more?

Seven Best National Trust Sites for Star Gazing

 

If you are looking for a great spot to see the shooting stars of the Perseids  away from bright lights and light pollution, there are some very good National Trust sites you can go to in the UK.

These sites are ideal for all kinds of stargazing any time of the year and are set in some of the most beautiful locations in the country

The seven best National Trust sites for star gazing and see the wonders of the night sky are:

 

  • Black Down in Sussex – Get closer to the stars on the highest point in the South Downs, just over a mile from the town of Haslemere.

 

Download the guide for Black Down

  • Teign Valley in Devon – Discover the stars at this Trust property within Dartmoor National Park and close to Castle Drogo.

 Download the guide for Teign Valley

  • Penbryn Beach in Wales – Beautiful, unspoilt mile-long beach on the Ceredigion coast in west Wales, great for a bit of star gazing and a late night paddle.

 Download the guide for Penbryn Beach

  • Stonehenge Landscape in Wiltshire – Step back in time and discover the ancient skies of Salisbury Plain’s chalk downlands, home to the impressive prehistoric stone monument.

 Download the guide for Stonehenge Landscape

  • Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire – Close to historic Ely, the wild landscape of the National Trust’s oldest nature reserve offers dark skies and a wealth of nocturnal wildlife to listen out for.

 Download the guide for Wicken Fen

  • Mam Tor in Derbyshire – Escape the bright city lights of Sheffield and experience the peace and tranquillity of Mam Tor’s dark skies in the Peak District.

Download the guide for Mam Tor

  • Friar’s Crag in Cumbria – Surrounded by the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of the Lake District, Friar’s Crag in Keswick juts out into the spectacular lake of Derwentwater; a restful place to contemplate the world above us.

 Download the guide for Friar’s Crag

 

More information about all of these sites is available by visiting: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/darkskies and enjoy stargazing and meteorwatch at these fabulous locations.

The Perseids – The Most Reliable Meteor Shower Of The Year

Originally posted on Dark Sky Diary as “Perseids Meteor Shower 2011” by Steve Owens @darkskyman on twitter

This month sees the most reliable meteor shower of the year; the Perseids. You can begin watching for Perseid meteors now, and the shower will last until mid-August, but the peak of the shower occurs in the small hours of Saturday 13 August 2011.

Perseus under dark skies
Perseus under moonlit skies

Unfortunately this year’s shower will be obscured by the full Moon which occurs on the same day, and so it won’t present its usual excellent display.

The number of meteors that you will observe every hour depends on a number of factors:

  • the density of the cloud of dust that the Earth is moving through, that is causing the shower in the first place;
  • the height above the horizon of the radiant of the shower, the point from which the meteors appear to radiate;
  • the fraction of your sky that is obscured by cloud;
  • the naked-eye limiting magnitude of the sky, that is a measure of the faintest object you can see.

Please visit Dark Sky Diary for the rest of this article………..

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