Who doesn’t love a dramatic “shooting star” ripping across the sky? Well, we live in the best area, and we’re about to get the best display in years.
The Moon is absent, making skies optimally dark. The famous Perseid meteors will peak over two nights, providing insurance against clouds. Plan on watching this Tuesday night, August 11. If you live away from the lights of town, and can see lots of stars from your back yard, you’ll see lots of meteors too. If it’s very hazy or else overcast, the following night will offers slightly more “falling stars,” but with fewer brilliant specimens. Tuesday or Wednesday night, either will work.
On whichever night is clear, I’ll be doing our annual “Night of the Shooting Stars” program at the Mohonk Mountain House. We go to a special dark meadow there, and have several hundred people spread out on the blankets that we provide. But your own lawn is perfect if you turn off all your house lights.
Be comfortable. Spread out blankets or lounge chairs. You need a big swath of unobstructed sky. Don’t stare through little breaks between trees. If your home won’t work, get in the car and find an unlit track or soccer field, cemetery, “Magic Meadow” or lakeside. They all do the job. Get into the open.
On either night, you’ll see 15 an hour before 11 p.m., when the best direction to face is northeast. From midnight onward, the sky explodes with 60 an hour, and now any part of the heavens will work equally well.
You can easily go five minutes seeing none at all, so don’t get discouraged and quit. During another random five-minute period you might catch ten of them. The trick is to keep watching. Don’t keep looking at your companions while chatting with them. Don’t merely glance up now and then. Your eyes must be married to the sky.
Here are some quick Perseid Points: Most of these meteors are the size of appleseeds. All travel at 37 miles a second – 80 times faster than a bullet. Their distance from you is always between 60 and 100 miles – even the brilliant ones that seem to come down in the next field. One in three leave behind glowing trains that linger for a second or two like Cheshire Cat smiles.
It’s the best and most romantic “cheap date” ever. Or, if you have kids, you’ll give them an experience that they’ll never forget. All we need are mostly clear conditions and, preferably, low humidity to limit haze. Fingers crossed.
Want to know more? To read Bob’s previous “Night Sky” columns, visit our Almanac Weekly website at HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com.