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Summer (meteor) showers

Now's a great time to see a shooting star

Now's a great time to see a shooting star

August 06, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

If you've never seen a shooting star, this coming week could be your chance to remedy that.

The annual Perseid meteor shower began in late July and will peak the night of Tuesday, Aug. 11, and early morning of Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Watch from a dark enough area and, if the skies are clear, you might see dozens of meteors an hour streaking across the sky during the peak period, according to NASA's Web site.

The meteors are actually cosmic dust, no larger than grains of sand, that glow when they enter the earth's atmosphere and burn up, said Dan Kaminsky, chairman of Tri-State Astronomers.

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It's rare to get a glimpse of a meteor, he said, so when there's a bunch expected per hour, your chances are greater at seeing one.

Tri-State Astronomers is hosting two of at least four meteor-watching parties next week in the Tri-State area. Tri-State will welcome visitors to its parties near Antietam National Battlefield's visitors center at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11, and Wednesday, Aug. 12. The parties will last until 1 a.m. if the skies are clear or partly cloudy. If the sky is fully obscured, there's no point in looking.

Potomac Valley Audubon Society will host a meteor-watching party at 10 p.m. Tuesday, and the Morgan County (W.Va.) Observatory will host a meteor-watching party Friday, Aug. 14.

From your own backyard



Tri-State residents also can watch from their yards, ideally in an area where there is as little light pollution as possible.

Kaminsky said you're probably not going to see anything from downtown Hagerstown, but you should have better luck seeing the brightest meteors with the naked eye if you are in the suburbs.

Hopefully, you'll have better luck than Kaminsky, who seems to run repeatedly into Murphy's Law.

"In my experience, no matter where you're looking, it's the other way," Kaminsky lamented.

To improve your chances at seeing a meteor, don't focus on one part of the sky, said Ellen Murphy, youth education director for Potomac Valley Audubon Society.

Let your eyes unfocus and look for movement, Murphy said. If you focus on one spot, you will probably miss a meteor.

This annual meteor shower is named the Perseids because it appears the meteors radiate from the constellation Perseus.

But the meteors could appear anywhere in the sky, Kaminsky said.

Every year the earth passes through the orbit of the comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet, which orbits past the Earth and around the sun once every 130 years, leaves behind a trail of cosmic dust in its orbit. When the Earth passes through the comet's dust trail, some of the dust hits Earth's atmosphere and burns up.

Conditions for his year's viewing of the Perseids won't be optimum because of a half moon that will rise just after midnight. But if the weather cooperates, there still could be a good chance of seeing meteors, Kaminsky said.

Guests at meteor-watching parties should bring blankets or reclining lawn chairs so they can lie back to watch the sky. Standing and craning your neck back will lead to a stiff neck, he said.




If you go ...



Local meteor-watching parties include:

  • Potomac Valley Audubon Society will host a meteor-watching party at Trinity United Methodist Church's Orchard House at Trinity Center at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11. For more information, call Ellen Murphy at 304-676-8739 or e-mail pvasprograms@comcast.net. The center is at 4599 Shepherdstown Road (W.Va. 45) between Martinsburg, W.Va., and Shepherdstown, W.Va. The party is free and open to the public.

  • Tri-State Astronomers next to Antietam National Battlefield's visitors center at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11, and Wednesday, Aug. 12. The parties will last until 1 a.m. For more information, call Dan Kaminsky at 301-988-9828 or go to www.tristateastronomers.org .

  • Morgan County Observatory will host a public star party at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 14, at the observatory. The observatory is on the grounds of Greenwood Elementary School, 8989 Winchester Grade Road, Berkeley Springs, W.Va. For more information go to www.nitesky.org or call Kevin Boles at 304-258-1013.

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