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Catch a falling star

No, this isn't about the travails of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, or even disturbing pictures of Debra Messing - for those you need to check Wizbang Pop!.

Shortly after midnight tonight, though, Earth begins to enter the debris trail of the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 120 years and last passed through in 1992. The significance of this is the leftover material creates one of the biggest annual meteor showers, known as the Perseids for the area in the constellation Perseus from which they appear to originate (although they can appear in any part of the sky at the peak). This should be a good year for viewing.

The peak is expected Sunday night, beginning after midnight, but there will be some tonight as well. Tips on viewing from David Perlman, Science Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle:


Andrew Fraknoi, chairman of astronomy at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, offers these recommendations:

-- Get away from lights as much as possible.

-- Allow 15 minutes for eyes to adapt to the dark.

-- The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, so try to have a full sky view away from trees and don't use binoculars.

-- Be patient. A shooting star may appear every few minutes.

-- Take someone with whom you like to sit in the dark.


Read the whole article at the link above.



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Comments (6)

Mr. Addison, can you help m... (Below threshold)

Mr. Addison, can you help me out with this sentence: "(T)he Comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 120 years and last passed through in 1992." ?

Thanks for the heads up, I'm just trying to figure out what is missing from that line. Not trying to be smart (that's a cranial impossibility), just wondering if it was supposed to be 1892 or if it will be back in 15 years. If it's the later, I won't feel so bad if I miss it, like I always miss Haleys, or when I missed Mars -or was it Venus ?- when it was closer than it will be for another 10 hundred years. Thanks again.

Okay: Swift-Tuttle orbits ... (Below threshold)

Okay: Swift-Tuttle orbits the Sun once every 120 years. It was last around the Sun-end of the orbit in 1992, so it will be back in 2112. The rest of the time is spent in the outer reaches of the solar system, past the gas giants and Pluto, and into the Oort cloud, but the debris which is expelled as it approaches the Sun remains, and we pass through that every year in August. Clear enough?

The most impressive comet in my lifetime was Hale-Bopp a few years back. Haley has been spectacular during some visits, but was a huge disappointment the one time I was alive to see it. Of course, there is no way to tell how impressive a comet will appear until it gets here.

The most disappointing comet of my life, though, has to be Kahoutek in the '70s. It was hyped beyond belief - some accounts predicted it would be a huge streak in the night sky at its peak. When it arrived, you couldn't even tell it was a comet without a telescope. Johnny Carson was making jokes about it for months.

I just spent about an hour ... (Below threshold)
jaymaster:

I just spent about an hour watching.

Saw five.

It wasn't the best hour of my life.

Thanks JA,I just g... (Below threshold)

Thanks JA,

I just got the impression that this was a once in a 120 year thing, but it's an every year thing. Just surprised not to have heard of it before.(5 streakers in an hour would be pretty impressive around here. Saw 6 in ONE NIGHT once when I was a kid and that was awsome.)

Five per hour isn't much fo... (Below threshold)

Five per hour isn't much for this shower - in good years it can average more than one per minute at the peak.

But also remember you couldn't expect ANY before midnight or so, and the bigger night is supposed to be Sunday night. And, like with comets, we can't really tell how impressive the show will be until it happens.

Its probibly the wreckege o... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

Its probibly the wreckege of the DEATH STAR or PERPLANUS,ALDERAN,or KRYPTON




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