Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Moon - Meteor Showers

As much as the full moon has power over me, shooting stars also draw me out to observe the night sky.  As a matter of fact a full moon is not your friend when watching for meteors.  The light of the moon can be as detrimental as lights from a large urban area.   A new moon is best for meteor watching.  I am not saying you should not try to view a meteor shower if there is anything but a new moon but the lack of light from a new moon is optimum.  The other function in the light equation is distance from a large urban area.  Somewhere on the ocean or in Flagstaff, AZ, or Sark Island 80 miles off the coast of England are good places to view a meteor shower because of the lack of light pollution.  Below are links to other good spots around the world.

Why are there meteor showers in the first place?  I will try to explain.  Each year the Earth circles the sun in one full orbit.  Traveling through Earth's orbit path have been other celestial bodies, each depositing bits and pieces in their wake.  As the Earth enters these intersections in its orbit the bits and pieces left behind strike Earth's atmosphere and burn as they are pulled down on a collision course with the its surface.  Most of the bits are as small as or smaller than a grain of sand and burn up before nearing Earth's surface.  Larger pieces burn brighter and for a longer period of time and may make contact with Earth's surface.  However, two thirds of the Earth is covered with water, meteorites, as they are called when they reach Earth, are difficult to find.  There are meteorite hunters that try and try hard to find them.  I am not so interested in meteorites but the light show the meteors provide.

There are eleven annual meteor showers.  They are spread out over the entire year.  There are four major showers each with a higher frequency of meteors.  As it happens this year, 2011, there is only one that occurs during a new moon and that is the Geminids in mid-December.  The Geminids is the most reliable shower of the year.  The weather is cold here and winter attire and a thermos of hot drink are my recommendations.

Another reliable shower is the Perseids in August.  Unfortunately for me, the summer is hot and humid producing haze or clouds and possible thundershowers that time of year.  There is also the matter of mosquitos for which to prepare.

No matter when you decide to view a meteor shower, the best time of day is just before sunrise.  That is because of Earth's rotation and its orbital path approaching the debris left behind by the celestial bodies.

Digital cameras aren't the best choice for exposures over 3 minutes.  Either keep the exposure under that or use a film camera.

2011 Meteor Shower Schedule
Guide to Viewing Meteor Showers
Photographing Meteor Showers
Popular Photography-How to Photograph the Perseids
Large Meteor Photographed in Pennsylvania 2009
Meteorite Hunters
Sark Island
International Dark-Sky Association Members' Favorite Spots

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