Earth is once again passing through left-over material from Comet Swift-Tuttle providing us with the annual stellar artistic show of the Perseid Meteor Shower. The best nights to view will be August 11 through 13, 2012 anytime after 10 or 11 pm. The dark sky far from city lights just before dawn is expected to provide the optimal viewing experience. To add to this celestial delight, will be a crescent Moon in alignment with Jupiter and Venus viewable in the eastern sky in the early morning hours.
Focus your gaze toward the Perseus constellation not too far up from the horizon in the north to north-east direction. (Review a detailed sky map.) In darker conditions it might be possible to observe as many as one hundred per hour. If you are in a safe location–in other words, not near a country road–take a blanket and lie down on the ground for a comfortable and relaxing night of sky magic.
If you are fortunate enough to see many meteorites, it’s always fun to count your way to a world record. However, for more than just personal entertainment, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office is very interested in knowing precisely how many you see. In fact, they have developed a citizen science smart phone app called ‘Meteor Counter‘ for iPhone and Android to assist anyone in scientifically providing accurate observation counts to the NASA research team. With these crowd-sourced counts, NASA can further develop models of the Perseid meteor debris stream, which will guide future safety plans for orbiting spacecraft.
Of course, not everyone in the Northern hemisphere will have optimal viewing experiences. However, online activities and live viewing of the shower will be available for those late night couch potatoes who would prefer to avoid the hot dog days of August. Courtesy of the great Spaceweather.com, a real-time Perseid Meteor show image gallery is available for viewing actual photos uploaded from amateur astronomers around the world. On the night of August 11 and 12, a live “Up All Night Chat” is also being hosted by NASA with astronomer Bill Cooke and colleagues where they will answer your questions and you will join them in a live video and audio feed of the shower.
So, however you are able to view this spectacle–either interactively online or roaming in the countryside–the annual Perseid meteor shower is a beautiful moment that must be relished. We experience our days focused on the minutia of effectively living in our society, but it is so inspiring to step away, if for only an hour in the middle of the night, to remember that we are only a minuscule element in an amazingly massive and gorgeous universe.