WPBT2's Star Gazers

Episode #12-32 "How to Watch This Weekend's Perseid Meteor Shower"
Air Dates August 6 - August 12, 2012

DEAN: Hey there star gazers. I’m Dean Regas,

MARLENE: And I’m Marlene Hidalgo

JAMES: And I’m James Albury, and we’re here to help you enjoy one of the best meteor showers of the year.

MARLENE: We’ve got some good news and some not so good news for you. The good news is that the Perseid meteor shower, the traditional best meteor shower of the year, will occur this weekend…

JAMES: But the not so good news is that a waning crescent moon will also be in the sky, which means that its light will hide some of the Perseids.

DEAN: But the news is not all bad, because a skinny, waning crescent moon will not rise until after midnight. So there will be no bright moon light to overwhelm the fainter meteors during the best viewing time, which will be between midnight and dawn on Saturday the 11th and Sunday the 12th.


JAMES: To see the Perseids, get as far away from city lights as possible and have clear and very dark skies. Then simply lay back on a lawn chair or sleeping bag facing northeast. About half way up the sky you’ll find the ‘w’ of Cassiopeia.

DEAN: Below Cassiopeia look for a long ‘v’ of stars in the sky. This is the constellation Perseus. It actually looks kind of like a wishbone from a turkey. One arm of the wishbone extends as far as the Pleiades. The meteors will seem to originate from near the top of this wishbone. To see the most meteors, you should stay up until dawn. No binoculars or telescopes are needed. Simply slowly scan the skies back and forth and up and down and you may see a couple dozen Perseid meteors, per hour.

MARLENE: As the night goes along, don't be surprised to see some of winter's brightest stars. Around 4 o’clock you’ll see Orion the Hunter, Taurus the Bull, Gemini the Twins. And up to their left you’ll easily spot Jupiter, the moon and brilliant Venus.

JAMES: Then up from the their left you’ll find the dimmer stars of the mythical hero Perseus, for whom this meteor shower is named. You see meteor showers are always named for the constellation from where the meteors appear to originate. But in case you've forgotten what a meteor is, let’s take you out into space and explain.


MARLENE: Meteors are simply tiny specks of comet debris, which slam into our earth's atmosphere and light up. You see every time a comet visits our sun it sheds tons of debris in its path. And eventually this debris gets spread out all along the comet's path.

DEAN: Now whenever our earth plows directly into any path of comet debris, these tiny pieces of debris slam into our earth's atmosphere. But because they plunge through our atmosphere traveling many miles per second, their friction causes the atmospheric gasses surrounding them to heat up and glow making visible streaks of light. And we call these streaks of light meteors, or incorrectly, "falling stars".

JAMES: The meteors we see during the Perseid meteor shower each August are the left-over debris from a comet named Swift-Tuttle, after the two astronomers, Horace Tuttle and Lewis Swift, who discovered it in 1862. Since the comet crosses the orbital path of the earth, we plow through Swift-Tuttle’s debris filled orbital path every August. It is one of the oldest recorded meteor showers in history and has been seen every August for over 2000 years!

DEAN: Now the predicted time when the earth will pass through the middle of its meteor stream is during the day for North America. But the stream of debris from comet Swift Tuttle is not a tight flat plane. In fact, the Persieds are considered active from July 17th through August 24th

MARLENE: So take a blanket or a lawn chair outside early this Saturday or Sunday morning, lie back with your feet facing northeast, then slowly scan the sky as long as possible, because the longer you stay out, the better your chance of seeing a few bright Perseids.  

DEAN: And let me give you the single most important rule for observing a meteor shower, which is, you must constantly scan the sky and have patience. You may see no meteors for 20 minutes or so, and then all of a sudden 2 or 3 may flash by all at once.

JAMES: But each time you see a Perseid streak across the sky this Sunday, remind yourself that what you're actually seeing is a tiny piece of comet litter plunging to its fiery death. Head for the shower! And keep looking up!



Episode #12-32 "How to Watch This Weekend's Perseid Meteor Shower"
Air Dates August 6 - August 12, 2012

MARLENE: Early this Saturday and Sunday between midnight and dawn, look for meteors from the Perseid meteor shower.


DEAN: Lie back on a lawn chair and face northeast. In addition to the bright stars of Orion, Taurus and Gemini you'll see Perseus, for whom this meteor shower is named and although the sky will have two bright planets and a waning crescent moon you may see some very bright Perseid meteors streak across the sky.

MARLENE: Every August our earth plows into a huge path of comet debris from a comet named Swift-Tuttle. When these pieces of debris slam into our earth's atmosphere, they light up the air they pass through and we call them meteors or "shooting stars".

DEAN: Here’s the most important rule for observing a meteor shower. You must constantly scan the sky and have patience. You may see no meteors for 20 minutes or so, and then all of a sudden 2 or 3 may flash by all at once.

MARLENE: So get out early this Saturday and Sunday mornings and

BOTH: Keep looking up!


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