Subject: Meteors ahoy! The Perseid meteor shower happening now (12 Aug is best night to see them)
From: Alex Kemp
Date: Friday, 09 August 2013 09:04:20 +0100
To: Micaela Kemp, Liisa Kemp, Davin Kemp

Every year the Earth passes through the orbit of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Even though the comet is no longer there (it orbits every 133 years around the sun; there is a chance of impact with the earth or moon on Sept 15, 4479) the comet leaves dust behind it as it passes. The earth sweeps through all that dust, and we on the surface get the chance to see meteors. Lots of them - approx 1 every minute. Some can be *really* spectacular - I saw one that skipped along the top of the earth’s atmosphere, like a pebble skipping across the surface of a lake.

The New Moon was Aug 6, so any of the next few days will be perfect for seeing meteors. The best time of the night is well after midnight; at that time the Moon has set, and Perseus is correct in the sky (in the East) so that just looking up should show lots & lots of meteors (they are called ‘the Perseids’ because, if you trace the path of the meteors backwards, they all appear to originate from Perseus).

Here is a schematic of the sky, looking east towards the Perseid radiant at 03:00 BST in the UK on the morning of August 13th (the height of the shower):

Perseid meteor shower radiant
The Perseid meteor shower radiant

...and this is, I think, a better picture of the sky so that you could identify the stars:

constellation Perseus
Constellation of Perseus

You will need:

  1. somewhere as far away from street-lamps as you can manage
  2. somewhere a little higher than everything else
  3. warm clothing, a flask of tea & a torch
  4. clear skies - no clouds at all if possible
  5. a little patience when you first get there - it takes 10 minutes for the eyes to adjust from car-lights to true dark

It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had; I wish that I could take you to see them myself.

Happy meteor spotting!

Alex Kemp