Estimation this weekend, Perseid meteors will Appear, visible from own.

Thursday, August 11th 2011. | Science News

The Perseid meteors are showering the night sky right now, and if the full moon weren’t lighting things up, Bay Area residents could see the shooting stars streaking across the darkness all night long. But the moon won’t disappear until well after midnight, so anyone who wants to see those dusty trails from an ancient comet as they flash for an instant entering Earth’s atmosphere will have to stay up all night or arise before dawn.

“It’s a good year to watch for the Perseids,” said astronomer Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center, “but not while the moon is full and its light drowns out the sky. But the moon will be out of the way before dawn, and that’s when the meteors will be most visible.”

The Perseid meteors will show up best in the Bay Area sky from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. Friday and between 4:30 a.m. and 5:15 a.m. on Saturday, Jenniskens said. Between 30 and 50 meteors should be visible then – but only in the darkness outside the city.

The Perseids are named for the constellation Perseus where the meteors seem to originate. Andrew Fraknoi, director of the astronomy program at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, noted that unlike planets or single stars, meteor showers do not require special equipment.

“In fact,” he said, “using telescopes or binoculars will limit your view to a small spot in the sky, and you’re likely to miss the shooting stars.” The meteors are tiny fragments left over from a massive comet named Swift-Tuttle, 16 miles in diameter. It flies into the inner solar system on its orbit every 135 years, and that’s when the sun’s radiant energy strips the dusty material from it that creates the Perseid meteor showers every year.

Jenniskens’ calculation of the comet’s orbit indicates it will come closest to Earth in the year 4497 -but how close would be only a guess.

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