Although a fairly bright moon might hamper the event, Hitchcock Nature Center, located just north of Crescent, will host their annual “Night Sky” program on Saturday, Aug. 10 for the arrival of the annual Perseid meteor shower. The program is scheduled to run from 8:30 p.m. to midnight.
The camp is located on Old Lincoln Highway (Highway 183) about 4 miles north of Crescent. Though there is no pre-registration fee for this event, participants must pay a $3 for entrance unless they have a Pottawattamie Conservation Foundation membership. For additional information, call 712-545-3283.
Earth is now entering the outskirts of a broad stream of debris from the giant Comet Swift-Tuttle, which is the source of the annual Perseids and although forecasters don’t expect the shower to peak until Aug.11-13, already NASA cameras are detecting Perseid fireballs streaking across the night sky as the shower slowly intensifies.
Indeed, a six-year study by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office found that the Perseids produce more fireballs than any other annual shower:
From past performances, the Perseids rank among the strongest shower of the 14 annual meteor showers but 2019 could be a bit disappointing because of the moonlight. Most estimates place the hourly meteor count this year at 18 to 24 meteors per hour.
Meteor watching is, as one might imagine, one the easiest parts to sky observations. All that is required is a blanket or chaise lounge to lie on, clear skies and an abundance of bug spray. No optical aids are necessary.
Two problems that observers must contend with are cloudy skies, which will cancel the event, and a bright moon that will effectively wash out all but the brightest of the meteors.
If there are no clouds, myself and possibly other members of the Omaha Astronomical Society will be on hand to answer your questions and some may have their personal telescopes set up for you to use for stargazing activities other than looking for meteors.
The Perseids, which are the most anticipated meteor activity during the year, are visible from July 17 until Aug. 24 but, as I said, the shower reaches its maximum activity Aug. 11 and 13.
As I’ve written about before, the best time to see the greatest number of meteors is during the period from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m., but for the majority of casual observers that is a bit too late to stay up.
Having observed hundreds of meteor showers over the years, I’ve always been interested in quality and not quantity. If one reason had to be given as to why the Perseids are such a favorite among astronomers, it would be the terminal bursts which are characteristic of this shower.
Meteors, traveling at 130,000 mph, are usually first observed when they are about 60 to 90 miles high. As the object penetrates deeper into the dense layers of atmosphere, it begins to decelerate and a large portion of energy is transferred to the air molecules surrounding it and they radiate as electromagnetic energy — light.
If the Perseid meteoroid is large enough, it causes the molecules of air to “pile” up near to the leading edge and eventually there is such intense stress that the fragment will be violently disrupted resulting in the terminal burst.
The Perseids draw their name from the constellation of Perseus, which is now in the northeastern sky. It is from that direction most of the meteors will appear to radiate.