This week at the George Observatory: Perseids Punch Through Supermoon on August 12

If you follow astronomy websites, you’ve probably noticed that every month or so there’s an article about a meteor shower happening. There are meteors showers frequently throughout the year. Some showers are more active than others depending on various factors. This August one of the most reliably active showers, the Perseids, will take place. 

The Perseids, sometimes called The Tears of St. Lawrence, occur when the Earth passes through a debris field created by comet 109P Swift-Tuttle. This year, the meteor shower peaks Tuesday night (August 12) through early Wednesday morning. Besides being one of the most active showers (in 2013 it averaged 109 meteors an hour), the Perseids also have a very broad peak. Meteors can be seen as early as July in some circumstances. 

The early meteors which are the first ones to hit the earth’s atmosphere, tend to be the brightest ones with the longest tails.These are called “Earth-grazers” and those are the ones we will be looking for the evening of August 12-13 here at the George Observatory.

This year, the shower will be taking place during another “Supermoon,” occurring August 10. While not at its closest point, this means the Moon will still be very close and bright on August 12. Normally, this would not be an ideal night for observing meteors since the Moon will flood the sky with light.

Our astronomers like to joke that “Moon” is a four letter word. 

But don’t fret! The Moon won’t rise until 9:30 p.m. that night and, with our high tree-line here at the George Observatory, it won’t start affecting viewing until at least 10 p.m.  Also, even after the Moon rises, the brightest meteors will still shine through. 

In 2011, the Perseids peaked on a full Moon and people still saw an average of over 50 meteors an hour. This year the Moon will be a waxing gibbous (progressing from the full moon to the new moon).

The George Observatory will be open on Tuesday, August 12 from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. for  meteor shower viewing. 

Event tickets are $5 per person.  Our Discovery Dome will also be available for $3 per person.  

When you wish upon a shooting star…it’s probably a meteoroid

Perseid Meteor 8/12/08
Creative Commons License photo credit: aresauburn™

The Perseid Meteor Showers, which occur every year around this date, are caused by the comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet itself was discovered in 1862, and could be seen again with binoculars in 1992. Calculations have shown that the comets witnessed in China in 188 A.D. and 69 B.C. were most likely the same comet. It is suspected that the comet should pass close enough to the Earth in 2126 to be visible to the naked eye (looking forward to that!) The comet should pass with in one million miles of the Earth in 3044 (a near miss.) The comet is approximately six miles across, which is the estimated size of the comet that killed off the dinosaurs millions of years ago.

Although the comet itself is currently far away, the Earth passes through the comet’s debris every year. The majority of the debris (meteoroids) is pea- or marble-sized and enters Earth’s atmosphere at roughly 133,200 mph (which is roughly 2,220 times faster than a car on the freeway, and 12,100 times as fast as I can run at top speed.) As the particle enters the atmosphere, it compresses the air in front of it, which heats it up. The temperature rises to about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which vaporizes the meteorite, creating the effect known as a “shooting star.”

Although a few of the meteorites could be seen last night and a few more tomorrow night, the best viewing time is in the predawn hours following tonight. In honor of such a spectacular natural occurance, the George Observatory in Brazos Bend Park will stay open from 9 p.m. tonight until 5 a.m. tomorrow morning

 This informational video was made for the 2008 Perseid Meteor Shower
The dates are slightly off, but all the other information is correct

Wherever you’re watching, you can use Twitter hashtag #meteorwatch to follow the action and ask questions!

Science Doesn’t Sleep (8.12.08)

African Elephant
Creative Commons License photo credit: Martin Pettitt

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

What gives jalapenos their kick? Fungus. Yum.

Robots with skin? Japanese scientists have developed a stretchy, rubber covering for robots that allows them to detect heat and pressure.

Elephants never forget – really. A new study has shown that herd matriarchs have exceptional memory for distant sources of food and water which can be the key to their herd’s survival.

Just one restaurant can produce 490 tons of CO2 every year – and there are 940,000 of them just in the US. So, how do you feel about “green cuisine?”

Have you been following the “case of the missing viper” at Moody Gardens? It sounds like something out of Encyclopedia Brownbut It’s escaped for real - twice. And now, investigators are pulling out the polygraph.

Did you stay up to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower? What did you think? Leave us a comment and let us all know what the experience was like.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (8.11.08)

Galaxie d Andromède
Creative Commons License photo credit: índio

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

Tonight is the best time to view the annual Perseid Meteor Shower - check it out at the George Observatory, open all night, starting at 9 p.m. In the hours just before dawn, it’s possible to see a meteor every minute.

Your mother was right (about the solar system) – we are special.

In an effort to understand their contribution to global warming, 21 US cities will measure and disclose their carbon emissions as part of a global effort run by the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Proof that magic is often science in disguise: scientists have created an Invisibility Cloak that bends light to make objects invisible. Currently, it works on a nano-scale, but could soon be enlarged.

China’s massive cutbacks in pollution-producing industries in advance of the Olympic Games was intended to help athletes compete at their best – but it’s also giving scientists an opportunity to study what happens when “a heavily populated region substantially curbs everyday industrial emissions.”