During these cool summer nights, in the dark corners of a crisp midnight sky- you’ll find a billion of reasons why August is a perfect month to be stargazing. The month of August is a host to a multitude of celestial events. We just had the glorious Blue Moon a few days ago, and now have a chance to observe the finest light show of the year- the Perseid Meteor shower. Visible Worldwide, the 2015 Perseid Meteor shower can be viewed on the mornings of August 11-14th. Under the dark, cool summer nights- one might be able to see 50 or more meteors per hour (depending on light pollution).The Perseid Meteor shower is produced by comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. As it orbits the Sun, this big “dirty snowball” sheds tiny grains of rock and dust. Over time, the particles spread out along the comet’s orbital path. Earth flies through this path every August, sweeping up some of the dust grains. They plunge into our atmosphere at more than 100,000 miles per hour, vaporizing as the streaks of light known as meteors.
The Perseids are famous for producing a large number of these bright meteors. The shower runs annually from July 17 to August 24 and it peaks this year on the night of August 12 and the morning of August 13. The thin crescent moon will be no match for the bright Perseids this year so be prepared for a great show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Perseus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
The Constellation Perseus
In classical Greek mythology, Perseus beheaded the snake-headed Medusa to save the princess Andromeda from a nasty sea monster. A few drops of Medusa’s blood fell into the sea, mixed with the foam, and gave birth to Pegasus, the flying horse, who later played a part in the story of another hero, Bellerophon.
The constellation’s brightest star, Alpha Persei, is a bit brighter than the North Star. It is moving through space with a large group of stars, known collectively as the Alpha Persei cluster. The cluster is only about 50 million years old, which is just one percent of the age of the Sun and Earth.
One of the brightest and most interesting stars in Perseus is Algol. The name Algol means “demon star.” Ancient skywatchers thought it was cursed because its brightness changes. That’s because Algol, which is about 75 light-years from Earth, is the most famous eclipsing binary star. A binary star is a star system consisting of two stars orbiting around their common center of mass. The brighter star is called the primary and the other is its companion star or secondary.
Today, astronomers know that Algol is two separate stars. About once every three days, the fainter member of the pair passes in front of the brighter one, and Algol grows fainter.
This first GIF shows an artist’s impression of an eclipsing binary star system. As the two stars orbit each other they pass in front of one another and their combined brightness, seen from a distance, decreases.
Algol, known colloquially as the Demon Star, is a bright star in the constellation Perseus. It is one of the best known eclipsing binaries, (2nd GIF) The second animation was assembled from 55 images of the CHARA interferometer in the near-infrared H-band, sorted according to orbital phase.
Star Cluster M34
The age of this cluster lies between the respective ages of the Pleiades open cluster at 100 million years and the Hyades open cluster at 800 million years. Comparisons between the observed stellar spectra and the values predicted by stellar evolutionary models gives an age estimate of 200–250 million years for M34.
With all the light pollution we are surround by in this day and age, it’s a shame that fewer and fewer people have actually been able to see the wonders of a pitch black night sky.Take this time witness one of natures most remarkable night shows- the Perseid meteor shower! You can visit your local park, or any area that is not tainted by artificial lighting. Grab a pair of binoculars, or just look up into the sky, and enjoy the show!
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“Everything You Need to Know: Perseid Meteor Shower | EarthSky.org.”EarthSky. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Aug. 2015.