New Lawrence watch party for Perseid meteor shower hinges on a clear night sky

photo by: Associated Press

In this 20-second exposure, a meteor streaks across the night sky above trees near Moscow, Idaho in the early hours of Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018 during the Perseid Meteor Shower. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Valerie Mann is keeping an eye on this weekend’s weather forecast in anticipation of watching the annual Perseid meteor shower on a little patch of prairie in southeast Lawrence.

As a naturalist at the Prairie Park Nature Center, 2730 Harper St., Mann will oversee a watch party at the center Saturday night, hosted by the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department.

But stargazers don’t have to wait until the weekend to observe some of nature’s finest fireworks. The Perseid meteor shower is already occurring in the night sky. However, it will peak on the nights of Monday, Aug. 12, or Tuesday, Aug. 13, according to Allison Kirkpatrick, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Kansas.

The August light show is Kirkpatrick’s favorite meteor shower, but she said it won’t be as brilliant as it was last year.

“This year’s peak will be a bit of a dud because the moon will be up and it will be moving to a full moon,” Kirkpatrick said. That will reduce the number of meteors that will be visible in the sky.

Despite the bright moon, Kirkpatrick said there will still be vibrant streaks of light shooting through the sky, just not the 50 an hour that are common during years when the moon is in its new phase.

With the sun now setting earlier, any night this week there is a chance to see meteors flash across the sky between 9 and 10 p.m., as long as there is no cloud cover.

“Now is the time to see them,” Kirkpatrick said. “You can see a couple of bright ones in the early evening.”

The meteor shower is visible without a telescope, and Kirkpatrick suggested Clinton State Park as a good spot for stargazing. For morning people, the ideal time to watch the meteor shower is about 3 a.m. after the moon has gone down and it’s completely dark.

“There are two hours of good watching between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.,” Kirkpatrick said.

The Perseid meteor shower is caused by debris left behind by the Swift-Tuttle comet and it gets its name from the constellation Perseus, where the meteors appear to originate, according to NASA.

While the weather forecast could change several times before Saturday night, there should be a window for a clear sky just after sunset, according to Jenifer Prieto, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka. There is a 10 percent chance of rain showers, and the best chance for rain will be after midnight into Sunday morning, Prieto said.

This is the first time that Prairie Park has offered the meteor watching event. Mann, who arrived at the nature center in February, said she did a similar program in Wisconsin. The event is from 9 to 10:30 p.m. and for children 8 and older. Mann will give a brief presentation before the stargazing begins. There is a $5 fee and those attending must register online.

Mann suggests bringing a blanket or lawn chairs and bug spray.

While she remains hopeful that people will see the meteor shower Saturday night, she added that it would be weather dependent.

“If the sky is too cloudy, we won’t do it,” she said.


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