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In the Stars – Meteor shower to brighten up night skies (Aug. 12, 2015 issue)

“I will show wonders in the heavens” Joel 2:30 NIV.
We currently have an opportunity to observe wonders in the heavens beyond the ones we are accustomed to. Over the next few nights take some time to step outside and check out a spectacular show. Reportedly Galileo once said “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” I find myself relating to his sentiment more and more during these warm summer nights when the sky is clear and the stars seem to shine and twinkle in a breathtaking performance. Especially since one of the best meteor showers currently has top billing.
There is one meteor shower that produces more fireballs than any other and it’s been underway for a few days now. The Perseid meteor shower occurs each year in August when the Earth enters a stream of debris from the Comet Swift-Tuttle. On August 5th, NASA all-sky cameras were already detecting an increasing number of Perseid fireballs. The number of Perseid fireballs is expected to increase as the shower’s predicted peak approaches on August 11th, 12th and 13th. With little or no moon to wash out the meteors, this is a great year for watching the Perseid meteor shower!
So what makes a fireball different from the typical meteor? Simply put, it is a very bright meteor. Generally brighter than magnitude -4, which is about the same magnitude of the planet Venus in the morning or evening sky. A bolide is a special type of fireball that explodes in a bright terminal flash at its end, often with visible fragmentation. Bolide fireballs are not a common occurrence but should not be ruled out entirely.
Here are a few tips for successful Perseid meteor shower viewing.
• Most important – a dark and clear sky. While you may catch a few meteors from the suburbs, the best viewing will be somewhere away from the city and streetlights.
• Bring equipment to add comfort and enjoyment to the experience such as a blanket, reclining lawn chair, air mattress, thermos with refreshments, snacks and binoculars or telescope for gazing at the stars.
• Be sure to dress warmly enough, even during the summer as the hours before dawn can become cooler than anticipated.
• And, my own personal suggestion, music. Whether that be music played through headphones or via a speaker dock, I wholeheartedly recommend enjoying meteor showers while listening to music. I typically build my meteor shower playlist a few days prior to the event. So if you haven’t ever tried it, give it a chance and create your own Perseid meteor shower soundtrack!
I was recently asked a couple of questions regarding meteor showers and am happy to share these here with you.
Where can I get more information about meteor showers?
While Googling “meteor showers” will provide you with more than enough information, I personally utilize both the EarthSky website: earthsky.org and the Space Weather website: http://spaceweather.com. The Space Weather website also has a place where you can sign up for free e-mail alerts about any upcoming sky events.
How bright does a meteor have to be before there is a chance of it reaching the ground as a meteorite?
Generally speaking, a fireball must be greater than about magnitude -8 to -10 in order to potentially produce a meteorite fall. To put that into perspective, the Full Moon has a magnitude of -12.6. Two important additional requirements are that (1) the parent meteoroid must be of asteroidal origin, composed of sufficiently sturdy material for the trip through the atmosphere, and (2) the meteoroid must enter the atmosphere as a relatively slow meteor. Meteoroids of asteroid origin make up only a small percentage, about 5 percent, of the overall meteoroid population, which is primarily cometary in nature.