Perseid meteor shower peepers’ best bet: Dark spot in wee hours

Since moving to Grand Junction from a populated area in Wisconsin, Gail Carravetta has been looking to the darker night skies of the Grand Valley to enjoy views she can’t get in more urban locations.

She and her friends expect to do just that this weekend as a dazzling light show of up to 100 meteors per hour is expected to play out above.

The Perseid meteor shower is visible every year about this time, but scientists are predicting that sky watchers could see a particularly breathtaking show between tonight and Tuesday night. Meteor showers are expected to peak on Monday night and early Tuesday morning, and the best time for viewing is after midnight but before sunrise.

“It’s just a really fun way to see something you don’t see every day,” said Carravetta, who will be camped out on Colorado National Monument. “We’re getting away from the city. Two years ago it was really spectacular — blue and green, yellow, white.”

The best place to view the meteor shower is “any place where the sky is dark,” said Hank Schoch, a member of the Western Colorado Astronomy Club. Some people seek out the monument to watch the sky, while others head to the Utah desert and look up.

“It’s best in the wee, wee hours,” he said. “If that’s your thing, this is your opportunity to do it.”

A nearly new moon will limit the amount of light in the night sky, said Doug Duncan, an astrophysicist and the director of the CU-Boulder Fiske Planetarium and Sommers-Bausch Observatory.

The Perseid meteor shower is caused by the Earth passing through the tail of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. Meteors are visible when chunks of ice and dust that make up the tail of the comet enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, Duncan said in a news release. The Perseid meteor shower is named after the Perseus constellation, where the shooting stars appear to originate. While viewing will be the best late Sunday night and early Monday morning, one-half to two-thirds as many meteors should be visible early Sunday and Tuesday mornings, Duncan said.

NASA has labeled the Perseid meteor shower as one of the most magical nights of sky watching and called the shower the “fireball champion.”

Fireballs are a bright meteor, and sky watchers typically can see one fireball every few hours on a given night, NASA said. Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office said he thinks the Perseid meteor shower displays a number of fireballs because the Comet Swift-Tuttle has a much larger nucleus — about 16 miles wide — compared to other comets.

“Most other comets are much smaller, with nuclei only a few kilometers across,” Cooke said in a news release from NASA. “As a result, Comet Swift-Tuttle produces a large number of meteoroids, many of which are large enough to produce fireballs.”

Of course, the numbers of meteors sky gazers can expect to see this weekend depends on the weather. The National Weather Service in Grand Junction is forecasting partly cloudy skies from tonight through Tuesday morning.


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