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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Watch the Perseids: Rain of Stars

perseids-001 Originally uploaded by Martin Krzywinski.
The Canarian Astrophysics Institute inform us that the Perseids - a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle - will be best viewed during the nights of August 12th and 13th this year. The maximum activity will be on the 13th at around 1:12 a.m. (Canarian and British time.)

This phenomenon, apparently, is known popularly here as Las Lágrimas de San Lorenzo (The Tears of Saint Lawrence), whose saints' day falls on August 10th.

The rain of stars is nothing more than small particles of cosmic dust deposited by comets, which visit earth on their way around the sun. When these particles enter the earth's atmosphere at high speed, they disintegrate, putting on their brilliant firework display. Most of the dust in the cloud today is approximately a thousand years old. (Space is as keen on housework as I am. LOL!)

To observe the Perseids best, it is a good idea to get well away from illuminated urban areas. The sky in the Canary Islands, we already know, is one of the clearest in the world for astronomical observation. The show will be over the horizon in the north east part of the sky at an angle of about 20 degrees. No special equipment is needed: they are best seen with the naked eye.

This year, however, the full moon on the 9th, which will only just be in decline during the Perseids' appearance and which is relatively close to that position, may present some observation difficulties.