Night sky expected to light up this week

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Meteorologist Kirstie Zontini explains more about this active meteor shower and when we could see some meteors here in the Miami Valley.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Every 133 years, the comet Swift-Tuttle orbits the sun.

The comet last made its closest approach to the sun back in 1992 and has been moving away from the sun - and earth - since. Swift-Tuttle is not due back “in our neighborhood” until the year 2126. But each August, the earth moves through the debris of dust and small rocks left behind. The earth moves through the densest of the debris between Aug. 11 and 12 when as many as 100 to 200 meteors per hour can be spotted in the dark skies under optimal conditions.

It is one of the most popular meteor showers of the year, and the peak Perseid meteor shower occurs this week. Every Perseid meteor is actually a tiny piece of debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle which disintegrate in flashes of light when they hit the Earth’s atmosphere. They’re called Perseids because they seem to originate from the constellation Perseus.

This year, the Perseids are expected to be super-charged by what NASA is calling an “outburst effect.” Bill Cook, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Ala. says we can thank Jupiter for an expected increase in the number of meteors this year. Usually, the Earth just grazes the edge of the Swift-Tuttle debris stream, but this year, Jupiter’s gravity will tug the debris stream closer and Earth should plow through the middle of them. A Perseid outburst last occurred in 2009.

So when and where should you look out for this celestial show? Obviously, the first factor in viewing will be the weather. Keep an eye on the forecast. If skies are clear, you can start looking any night as meteors will light up the sky throughout most of this month. However, the meteor shower will peak during the predawn hours this Friday. The peak time to look will be once the moon sets which will be after midnight. However, if you can’t stay up that late, you may still see a few meteors if you gaze toward the northern sky. Plus, the evening sky will also be spectacular as Saturn, Venus, Mars, Mercury and Jupiter will all be making appearances in the southern and western skies.

The best advice is to find a place where you have as much view of the sky as possible, and be away from city lights. Also, be sure to allow yourself at least 20 to 30 minutes out in the dark for your eyes to adjust. Your eyes will not see them if you only go outside for a few minutes after being inside in the lights. You will also want to make sure you have a comfortable lounge chair to be able to lay back, and don’t forget the bug spray.

NASA will offer a live stream starting at 10PM. You can watch UStream channel

Eric Elwell is WHIO StormCenter 7 Chief Meteorologist. Contact him at eric.elwell@coxinc.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.