Perseid meteor shower offers spectacle
by Kellen Moore
The Perseid meteor shower is expected to peak late Saturday and early Sunday, offering one of the brightest and most plentiful barrages of shooting stars available to stargazers.
The meteor shower occurs annually when the Earth passes through the debris of the Swift-Tuttle comet, named for the astronomers who discovered it in 1862.
The “shooting stars” are actually bits of rock that burn when they pass through or skip along the Earth’s atmosphere.
The shower is named Perseid because it comes from the area of the constellation Perseus, visible in the northeastern sky from the High Country area.
David Sitar, an astronomy lab instructor in the Appalachian State University Department of Physics and Astronomy, said projections for clear weather and dark skies should make for good viewing conditions locally.
“We’re going to be in a waning crescent moon, meaning the moon won’t rise until the very late night, very early morning, so we don’t have to compete against the moon,” he said.
As an added bonus, both Jupiter and Venus will be visible and bright in the east just before the sun rises Sunday, he said.
Depending on your location, the Perseid meteor shower is supposed to produce between 50 and 100 shooting stars per hour, Sitar said. But he said viewers shouldn’t be disappointed if they do not see that many.
“I’ve been watching the Perseids for a very long time, and I’ve been kind of disappointed. I’ve never been able to see 50 or 100 per hour,” he said.
The best chances for viewing will be dark areas away from streetlights, such as along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some websites recommend allowing your eyes to adjust to the darkness for about half an hour before looking for the streaks of light.
ASU’s Dark Sky Observatory also will host a public observatory night from 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. The observatory is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 269 in Deep Gap.
The event is free, but requires registration online at http://bit.ly/ASUobservatory. Donations will be accepted for the ASU Foundation — Friends of the Observatory.
While the so-called peak is Sunday, Sitar said that term can be deceiving.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go on Aug. 12,” he said. “They’re actually happening right now and will continue to happen through about Aug. 26, probably.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named David Sitar, an astronomy lab instructor at Appalachian State University. The story has been corrected.