Friday, August 10, 2012

The Perseids Are Coming! Let's Practice Some Cool Science!

You can see 100 or more of these per hour this weekend!

It was a cool late night. I was laying on my patio, comforted by a blanket under me and my young daughter, her gaze full of innocent curiosity, looking up. As an aside, people do not look up at the sky enough, possibly because for most, their view is obscured by the haze of light pollution. We saw nature putting on a display that was touted as the most prolific metoer shower in many years. It didn't disappont! It is among my fondest memories that I have shared with my daughter, and at the same time, all about sharing the exotic wonders of nature.

Catherine, my now 20-year old daughter, is not a scientist, she is an artist. She makes amazing things in charcoal! Sometimes, I cant help but wonder still how inspired she continues to be when she looks up - to the skies - and is inspired. Perhaps that is why I look forward to this weekend so much.

This weekend, the Perseid meteor show will put on a show, producing visible meteors at a rate of almost 100 per hour. A concise (less than 4 min) description can be found at this NASA science cast.

This year's display is especially significant because several planets will be visible in the midst of the flurry of meteors. Additionally, a dim crescent Moon will add to the display!

How can you add practicing science to this spectacular viewing opportunity? Scientists world-wide are interested in collecting data from different locations, but cannot place location and viewing devices all over the world. NASA has created apps for both Androids and Apple products thatcan be easily downloaded and serve as meteor counters, reporting data back to world-class scientists who study meteors and meteor showers like the Perseids for many reasons, from determining how the Solar System evolved to protecting the Earth from bigger, more damaging asteroids.

What spawns the Perseid meteor shower, as well as others throughout the year? Clouds of dust and debris lie in the path that the Earth sweeps out as it orbits the Sun that are remains of comets. In this case, the comet Temple-Tuttle is to be thanked for the small specks of dust that are intercepted by the Earth's gravity every year at this time. The Earth comes around to this location and the result is that a small amount of the dust in this cloud is pulled toward the Earth, heating up in the atmosphere until they glow in a bright, spectacular short-lived, attention-getting display for all to see. The small dust particles burn up quickly, never making it to the ground.

Viewing a meteor shower like the Perseids can take many forms. I will be in Port Allegany, PA, and may visit Cherry Springs State Park, noteworthy for being the darkest area east of the Mississippi River, a source of excellent viewing conditions. You might be in Florida, or Oklahoma, or Nigeria however. Suppose you are in Florida, as is a good friend of mine! Take your kids and head away from the city lights, to an area where there is little light pollution. A beach could be the perfect place to view a display like this. As you look up and see these brilliant natural fireworks, remember that we all are seeing the same planets, the same Moon, and the same stars! Whether you count the meteors, use your Smartphone or tablet to do so. So relax and dream romantically! This is an example of the beauty of science. It is also an example of how we can reach out and share an event, even though separated by thousands of miles!

As I am out watching I will remain connected from time to time, though it takes about 20 min for the human eye to fully become adjusted to the darkness of the night away from lights. My twitter is @coachk23 and I am on GooglePlus and Facebook of course. Feel free to send me a story of your experience under the stars. I will be thinking about some of my favorite people who may be watching as science and beauty happens right before all of our eyes!

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