Space enthusiasts who have spent the past few days admiring the stunning images of Martian landscapes beamed from NASA's Curiosity would have been well-advised to peel their eyes from their computer screens and look up into the night sky to catch a glimpse of one of the most spectacular celestial light shows.
Stargazers in the U.S. and other parts of the northern hemisphere who stayed up late this weekend were treated to the dazzling Perseid meteor shower.
The annual display peaked early Sunday morning, providing a dazzling spectacle from California to Holland, from Hungary to the Canary Islands off the African coast, MSNBC reported.
Link with pictures here
The Perseid Meteor Shower occurs each August as the Earth, following its normal orbit around the Sun, intersects the orbit of dust particles left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. Think of this event as a car on a road driving through a chute of snowflakes. In the case of the meteor shower, these dust particles -- all of them tiny specks -- become extremely hot as they hit the Earth's upper atmosphere at speesd of 20-50 miles per second. The hot particle generates a streak of light before the particle is obliterated.
The best time of the night to observe the event is when your viewing point is facing into the dust stream, much as the best way to snowflakes while driving is to look forward (through yor windshield). This occurs when the pre-dawn side of the Earth is moving towards the constellation Perseus-- i.e., early in the morning. (Thus the name of the meteor shower.). That's when the count rate of events reaches its peak. However, the occasional stray dust particle can be seen burning up in the evening as well, particularly once the sky is dark.
There are several meteor showers during the year, the best of which is the Leonids in November. For people on the west coast of the U.S., the advantage of viewing the Persieds is that they occur during the summer season of clear, relatively warm weather. The moon will be in almost new, so the sky will be brighten only slightly after about 2 AM.
Before you go, here are some tips for making the trip enjoyable.
∙•●It may be cool at night, especially when sitting out for hours, so bring warm clothes and drinks.
∙•●You'll be staring up and to the east for quite a while, so bring a blanket, and a comfortable pad or chair.
∙•●Count rates are typically 40 events per hour, more in some years than others, and more at dark sites than bright ones.
∙•●The Persides extend throughout August; however, the best nights are usually August 11, 12, and 13. The expected peak of the shower is before dawn on August 12-13.
∙•●The best viewing hours are between 2 and 4 AM when the Earth's face is facing into the grain/pebble swarm.
∙•●Cameras and binoculars won't do much good for seeing meteor showers. Yes, really. Bring them for other purposes, such as viewing the moons of Jupiter.
∙•●Faint streaks are far, far more common then bright ones. That's because the particles hitting the atmosphere are mostly grains with a few tiny pebbles.