Perseid meteor shower most visible Saturday night

Saturday, August 10, 2013 | 5:23 p.m. CDT
In this photo taken with long shutter speed, a meteor sparks, lower right, while entering the earth's atmosphere behind an olive tree during the Perseids meteor shower, in Fanos village, central Greece, on Saturday The Perseids are a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids shower is visible from mid- July each year, with the peak in activity being between Saturday and 14 depending on the particular location of the stream.

COLUMBIA — Saturday night might be the best night so far this year to catch a glimpse of a shooting star.

The Perseid meteor shower, known for being one of the most dazzling cosmic shows of the year, makes its annual return this weekend.

Although the light show is expected to peak Sunday and Monday nights, President Steve Bertels of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association predicts Saturday night’s weather will provide a clearer view of the sky.

He expects about 50 meteors per hour Saturday and Sunday nights, with the frequency dwindling to about 30 per hour by Tuesday. The ideal time to see the shower each night, he said, is between midnight and 2 a.m.

Although Columbia viewers have the best chance to see meteors Saturday, this year’s show might be a little more disappointing than those of previous years, Bertels said.

“I’d say it (will be) pretty poor. Most summers are better than this just because of all the clouds,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t see where they’re at, and they’ll block the meteors.”

The Perseid meteor shower can be seen above the constellation Perseus and below Cassiopeia, Bertels said. The meteors come from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which leaves behind a trail of debris as it circles the sun. Each year, the Earth passes the comet closely enough for pieces to enter the atmosphere.

Don’t expect to take home any celestial souvenirs, however; the meteors almost always burn up before reaching the ground, Bertels said.

He provided some tips for those who plan to watch the show:

  • Don’t bother setting up a telescope. The meteors can be seen with the naked eye. A pair of binoculars isn’t necessary either, but Bertels still takes one along to kill time between meteors.
  • Dress warmly. Amateur stargazers often forget how cold it gets late at night, even in the summer. Shorts and flip-flops might leave you shivering. Consider bringing a jacket and blanket.
  • Stay patient. The intervals between meteors vary. Some meteors fall within seconds of each other; five or 10 minutes might pass between some. If you don’t see one after about 20 minutes, however, you might want to call it quits for the night, Bertels said.
  • Avoid artificial lights. The bright lights of downtown don’t provide the clearest view of the sky. Even residential areas and backyards, he said, do not provide ideal conditions. He recommended driving a couple miles northeast of Columbia for the best view.
  • Don’t forget a reclining lawn chair. Try to face your chair to the northeast.
  • Bring buddies. Make the night about conversation as much as viewing the meteor shower. It’s a good way to pass time during lulls.

Supervising editor is Shaina Cavazos.

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