If there is one thing certain when people are separated by frontiers and oceans and continents, like most Iggles, it’s that the sky is the same for all. Of course, the stars aren’t the same in the northern and southern hemispheres, but the moon and sun are still there. Wherever your are! That’s one of the things I like most about astronomy. You don’t have to be rich, or skilled, or to live somewhere special to have a look at the stars and see how beautiful it is.
So, here’s the activity I propose you to do: let’s go outside at night and watch the stars together! Because right now, there’s an incredible event that you can watch only once a year, which is called The Perseids. Basically, it’s a shooting-star shower. This is the best time of year if you wanna wish upon a star to make your dreams come true.
What are the Perseids?
Every year at the same time, our planet enters the path of a comet, Swift-Tuttle, and its debris enter our atmosphere and light up doing so. Most of the meteors have the size of a speck of dust! They usually light with bright colours, even though it’s not always possible to see them clearly because they are quickly out of sight. It’s quite beautiful, even if you just catch a glimpse at them.
How to have a perfect view of the Perseids?
Save the date:
You can watch them every night in the northern hemisphere -it’s more difficult in the Southern during the beginning of august, but the peak activity will be at the beginning of IGGPPCamp, during the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th nights. You can count up to 100 meteors per hour at this time, which means you will surely see at least one if you stay a few minutes outside! Like their name suggest it, the Perseids can be seen around the constellation of Perseus. Don’t panic, I know the sky is wide and you surely don’t know how to recognize Perseus, but I’ll help.
Where to look:
Perseus is a constellation you’ll find at North-East. Around midnight, the constellation will show up on the horizon almost North, and constantly rise in the sky taking the direction of the East. It’s not easy to spot Perseus, BUT you can easily spot the constellation that is right above it, Cassiopeia. You know, it’s the big W! Search for it, and look in this global direction for at least 20 to 30 minutes, so you’ll have the best chances to see shooting stars.
At what time:
For those who lives in Europe, the best time will be around 11pm (23:00) to midnight, while the American Iggles will see most of the Perseids between midnight and dawn. Look for them in a similar time if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, though because of the angle you’ll see about 1/3 the number of meteors, and you’ll still need to look north. That’s what I read. But the Perseids will show up anyway during the 4 nights, from dark to dawn! So you can go and chase them anytime.
Although I’ve already spotted some Perseids at sunset, it’s very difficult to see them if there are too many lights. I suggest you to wait until it gets really dark to start looking for them. The night will be dark enough at this time of year, and because we are lucky, it will be the new moon so the moon will not disturb us.
What do I need ?
In fact, you don’t need anything. No telescopes neither binoculars will help you: find a place where you can easily see the northern horizon, and you’ll just need your eyes open.
I strongly suggest a few things that could help you having the best time while watching the Perseids:
– Looking up for so long can be really painful for your neck so it might be a good idea to lay down on a deck chair (a normal chair or a mattress could do)… Except if you found a spot on a hill or somewhere high
– Go on the countryside if you can, because the cities are too luminous to fully enjoy this event. The rate of shooting stars per hour is far less than 50, and that’s if you are up at the best time
– Even if the weather is hot, the temperatures go down during the night, especially if you don’t move a lot. You may want to bring a coat or even better, a blanket -it’s perfect with the deck chair
– Bringing a red light can help: unlike bright lights, they don’t disturb you night vision.
– I like to have coffee and sweets with me, because astronomy is mostly about patience
Don’t forget to count all the shooting stars you’ll see and tell us on the forums how your evening/morning watching the stars went. Good luck and have fun!