The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks each year around 12–13 August — that will be Friday night and Saturday morning of this week. The Perseids always arrive on schedule, but this year their arrival coincides with a full moon, and the bright moon will sadly wash out many of the dimmer meteors. Some of the brighter Perseids may still be visible, though, and the effect of the bright moon on the visibility of dimmer objects is a science lesson itself, so be sure to go out for a little while to take a look.
❡ Lunar light: The best time for stargazing in any given month is near the date of the new moon, because that’s when the sky is darkest overall. Around the time of the full moon the sky fills with reflected lunar light and dimmer objects — whether stars or meteors — are much harder to see. But sometimes you just want to look, even when conditions are not ideal. If you’re stuck with a bright moon, do this: find a location without any additional artificial lighting, and position yourself so that the moon is behind a building or a tree. Give your eyes plenty of time to adjust to the darkness — at least 10 minutes — and be sure not to look at the moon or any other bright object (including your phone), because that will instantly ruin your night-adjusted vision. Then gaze away. The night sky is always full of wonders, bright moon or no, and any time you spend under it with your homeschool students will be time well spent.
Here are some Perseid facts and detailed observing recommendations from the International Meteor Organization:
You can also get quick facts and local observing recommendations from the helpful timeanddate.com website:
Individual Perseids may leave a short streak or may cross the entire sky, but they will all appear to radiate from the general direction of the constellation Perseus, which rises in the northeast about 11:00 p.m. at this time of year. Your Backyard Guide to the Night Sky has handy charts that will help you orient yourself to the sky overhead.
Meteor showers like the Perseids occur when the earth in its orbit around the sun intersects the trail of debris left behind by a comet making its orbit around the sun (that’s why they occur at the same time each year). In the case of the Perseids, the parent comet involved is Comet Swift–Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. (It last came through the inner solar system in 1992.) You and your students can learn all about meteors and meteor showers in general on the website of the American Meteor Society — here are some of their resources:
- ➢ Meteor Showers – Introduction (amsmeteors.org)
- ➢ Meteor Showers – Frequently Asked Questions (amsmeteors.org)
- ➢ Meteor Shower Calendar (amsmeteors.org)
The AMS also has a printable color poster of basic meteor terminology — it’s just the thing for your homeschool bulletin board.
There is a remarkable interactive animation of the Perseid meteor shower and its parent comet available from the website meteorshowers.org. Until quite recently, interactive animations of this kind would have been available only on the most advanced computers, but now you can examine them in detail from the comfort of your little home academy.
Note that this animation is fully interactive: by dragging and scrolling across the screen you can tilt the plane of the solar system to view it from above or below, and you can zoom in on the earth’s or the comet’s orbit. (The animation begins in the outer reaches of the solar system, so you’ll have to start by zooming in to find our blue planet earth orbiting third from the sun.)
What celestial sights and astronomical apparitions have your students examined in your homeschool this Hercules Term? 🔭
❡ All the star-sown sky: Teaching your students the major constellations and the names of the principal stars is one of the simplest and most enduring gifts you can give them. Our recommended backyard star guide and homeschool world atlas both contain charts of the constellations that will help you learn your way around the heavens. Find a dark-sky spot near you this month and spend some quality homeschool time with your students beneath the starry vault. ✨
❡ Star bright: If you’d like some light and easy homeschool astronomy lessons, download and print a copy of our annual River Houses Star Calendar and follow along with us month by month as we make twelve heavenly friends-for-life over the course of the year. 🌟
❡ The starry archipelagoes: For a great weekly astronomical essay, perfect for older homeschoolers, pay a visit to “The Sky This Week” from the U.S. Naval Observatory. These well-written pages, posted each Tuesday, usually focus on one or two special astronomical events or phenomena. If you have high school astronomy students, have them read these pages aloud to you each week, or ask them to study them and then narrate a summary back to you. 🌌
❡ Watchers of the skies: This is one of our regular Homeschool Astronomy posts. Add your name to our free River Houses mailing list and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox every week. 🔭
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