I remember being bundled in a blanket and being taken outside into the chill midnight air as a child. I would be sleepy and warm, held in my father’s arms. He would extend his arm and point, “look at the sky!”
Coming more fully out of dreamland I would say, “I don’t see anything.” He would gesture to the stars and say “watch.” As I looked, I saw stars and waited (very hard for a child to do.) “Look!” I said excitedly, a brilliant streak of light cut through the star-shimmering sky. This was my first experience with the Perseid Meteor shower.
The Perseid Meteor shower comes around only once a year in early August; if you went out tonight you’d likely see some Perseid shooting stars. Comet Swift-Tuttle—or less-romantically, comet 109P—left behind dust and particles in the path of Earth’s orbit. The constellation Perseus, named for the valiant Greek hero, will seem to be where the shooting stars begin. The show starts when these pieces of comet slam into our atmosphere and vaporize.
Now, when these pieces vaporize they are called meteors or shooting stars. Meteorites are the chunks that actually hit earth. These are objects like the fantastic Chelyabinsk meteorite that hit Russia in 2013, or the huge meteorite which likely wrought planetary upheaval and killed lots of the dinosaurs.
While the peak of the Perseid meteor shower is hard to predict, current estimates are that August 11th, 12th and 13th will have the most shooting stars per hour. You can start viewing any time after sunset when the sky is dark; the best show should be in the wee hours of the morning before sunrise. This year’s meteor shower will be around the new moon, so moonlight won’t upstage the shooting stars. Check out the links below for viewing tips.
So, this year, think about having a “Perseid Party.” Find a dark sky, pack up some snacks, drinks and blankets. Get out there, hang out under the stars with friends or family - you just might make a memory that will last a lifetime.
Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written & recorded by Carolyn Hunt, Park Ranger at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.