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Archive for Monday, August 11, 2008

Skygazers anticipate Perseid meteor shower

August 11, 2008

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— Today, you could have the opportunity to wish on hundreds or even thousands of shooting stars.

After midnight, look up in the northeast for the annual Perseid meteor shower, consistently one of the most spectacular celestial shows of the year.

For the best view, don't bother to set up a telescope - a meteor shower is best observed with your naked eye under a dark sky, preferably on a comfortable blanket or lawn chair.

If you're really ambitious, try pointing a single lens reflex camera at the northeast sky and taking a long exposure - at least a few minutes. The meteors will show up as streaks emanating from the constellation Perseus.

For centuries, the Perseids were known in Europe as "St. Lawrence's fiery tears," a reference to the martyred saint whose feast falls on Aug. 10, near the peak of the shower.

Comet Swift-Tuttle, which is responsible for the Perseid meteor shower, was discovered in 1862 by American astronomers Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle. At the farthest end of its 133 year orbit, Swift-Tuttle shoots almost 5 billion miles away from the sun, outside the orbit of Pluto, while at its closest the comet brushes closer to the sun than Earth. Swift-Tuttle was last seen in 1992 when it was rediscovered by Japanese astronomer Tsuruhiko Kiuchi. It won't be back in the solar neighborhood until 2126.

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