Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Free Family Entertainment: Watch the Sky Tonight

We're hitting the roof tonight for an evening of free family fun. There's going to be a meteor shower, and it won't cost a thing to share the skylights with the kids. But how can you get the most fun and education from the evening? For answers and insights, I turned to David Dickinson from Astroguyz: http://www.astroguyz.com/

"Stargazing," says Astroguyz, "is a completely free hobby. When I was a kid, we would all lay out on the lawn and watch the Perseid."

The Perseid Meteor Shower: a Q & A with Astroguyz.

"When will I be able to see the Perseids?

The Perseid meteor shower is the most well-known and dependable shower of the year; typically, 60 to 100 meteors are seen, silently streaking through the sky. This year, however, there is evidence that we may see rates as high as 200+ per hour centered around 4 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, August 12. A day or two prior or after may be worth watching as well; meteor streams are notoriously unpredictable.

Early AM is always the best time to watch, as the Earth faces forward into its orbit after midnight. Folks can starat watching after sunset, but the best results will be in the early morning. I'll probably try to get up 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. and see what I can see.

By the way, 4 a.m. will be the peak on the east coast and 2 a.m. is the predicted peak for the west coast.

What are they?

The Perseids are tiny remnants of the comet Swift-Tuttle. As it sheds material into a
stream about the sun, the Earth periodically sweeps through its wake. Dozens of comets and trails have been identified; we just happen to sweep through the Perseid trail in mid-August. Most Perseids are dust grains; even those big, bright fireballs you see are probably not much larger than pea-sized!

What will I see?

Scanning the skies will probably yield a meteor or so a minute at the shower's peak;
keep in mind that the quoted rate of 200+ an hour is an ideal rate, assuming no light pollution and a radiant that is directly over head. This year, a bright moon might prove to be a negative factor. The farther north you are, the higher in the sky the radiant will be. Also, one viewer alone cannot cover the entire sky at once; several viewers facing different directions will up your odds for success.

Is this a unique occurrence?

No; the Perseids are only the most dependable annual shower of the year.
One shower, the Leonids, occurs in mid-November and is capable of large outbursts every 33 years. The great Leonid storms of 1833, 1966, and 1998-9 were some of the greatest shows in astronomy history!

Do I need a telescope?

No, meteor showers are one event that can be enjoyed with the naked eye.
Counting and recording what you see in a given interval can even yield useful scientific data, as the modeling of meteor streams is still not completely understood. Clouded out? You can even listen to meteors via FM radio or the Internet.

In any event, its always worth looking for yourself; you never know what you might see!"
--David Dickinson, astroguyz.com

Other frugal sky-watching tips: Grab popcorn, chopped veggies, lemonade or other beverages. My friend Myscha recommends finding a lawn chair with a reclining back. You'll get support and comfort while stargazing.
Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.

1 comment:

Chrystal K. said...

I tried to view it last night...with no success. :(