Enjoy the Perseid Showers this August! No I’m not talking about rain. The Perseid showers happen every year in August and offer a wonderful display of “shooting stars.” The term shooting star is a misnomer in that the brilliant lights traveling across the night sky are not stars, but comet dust. As comets revolve around the sun, dust is left behind in their orbits. Because the earth follows the same path around the sun, the earth’s atmosphere comes in contact with the dust on August 11 or 12 every year. The friction between the dust and atmosphere causes the dust to burn up, creating a shooting star or meteor. While the meteor showers will be visible from the 9th through the 13th of this month, depending on cloud cover, the peak will be on the evening of the 11th. It is estimated that there will be 60 visible meteors per hour during the peak, a rate ten times greater than on other evenings. Whatever night you choose, you will find more meteors after midnight because the earth will have turned directly into the dust belts. Why Perseid? Perseid refers to the constellation Perseus. Perseus is a character from Greek mythology known for fighting winged monsters called Gorgons. In renderings of the constellation, he is shown holding the head of Medusa, one of the Gorgons. According to the legend, anyone who looked upon a Gorgon was immediately turned to stone. The Goddess Athena gave Perseus a shield that was so shiny he was able to fight Medusa using her reflection in his shield, thus avoiding turning to stone. On the evening of the Perseid showers, the constellation Perseus sits on the horizon just east of due north. It appears as though the meteors are emanating from that point, hence the name “Perseid Shower.” To find the constellation in mid August, locate the constellation Cassiopeia: a giant “W” in the north, north-east sky. Look between the “W” and the horizon for a cluster of stars. On August 13 you can view the Perseid Showers with the Urban Ecology Center as part of the monthly Friday Fire. Singer-songwriter Will Branch will be singing around the campfire, followed by a viewing of the Perseid showers. Fee: $5 per person, $10 per family.
by Beth Fetterley