Whittier Daily News Article on the Perseids

Posted On August 12, 2005

Perseid to present dazzling sky show

Meteor shower visible in northeast

By Dana Bartholomew and Brian Day , Staff Writer and Correspondent

Fireballs will fly across the heavens early Friday during the Perseid meteor shower, one of the most dazzling astronomical events of the year.

And veteran stargazer Tony Cook will crane his neck in a north- easterly direction to greet it.

“Even if I can’t drive out to dark skies, I always get up to watch these meteors,’ said Cook, an astronomical observer at the Griffith Observatory.

“Some are fireballs bright enough to cast shadows on the ground, like fireworks, which increase in velocity toward dawn.’

Whittier College professor of astronomy Dr. Glenn Piner said this year’s shower is expected to put on an especially good show.

The Perseid meteor shower, running from mid-July to mid-August, has wowed night owls for eons.

Also known as “The Tears of St. Lawrence,’ after an account of a Christian saint reportedly martyred by Romans over a red-hot iron stove, the meteors radiate out of the constellation Perseus each August.

The event is caused as Earth, on its trip around the sun, crosses the dusty orbit of the comet Swift- Tuttle, said Craig Bobchin, vice president of the Orange County Astronomers.

The result is hundreds of shooting stars, pieces of comet dust ranging in size from a grain of sand to a pea, at a predicted rate of 40 to 60 per minute. These small chunks of space debris will be traveling at up to 132,000 miles per hour as they enter Earth’s atmosphere and begin to incinerate from the friction, said Bobchin.

This year, the Perseid meteors can best be seen looking northeast under moonless skies before dawn on Friday and, to a lesser extent, on Saturday from a lounge chair or sleeping bag.

No telescopes or binoculars are necessary to view the shower; however, to see the full impact of the event one must travel out of the city limits, either into the mountains or the desert, said Bobchin.

For those who cannot escape from civilization Friday night, Piner suggested going up into the Whittier Hills, for instance up Turnbull Canyon Road.

You’ll also want to allow your eyes half an hour to 45 minutes to adjust completely to the dark to get the best view.

If you must bring a flashlight, Bobchin suggests you cover the lens in red cellophane or tape, which will let you see while keeping your eyes adjusted to the dark.

A good viewing technique is to lie on your back, or in a reclining lawn chair, relax, and simply take in the sky, said Piner.

“I encourage everyone to go out and look,’ said Bobchin, “especially if you’ve never seen it before. You’ll be very impressed.’

Dana Bartholomew can be reached at (818) 713-3730 or by e-mail at dana.bartholomew@dailynews.com . Messages can be left for Brian Day on e-mail at news.wdn@sgvn.com .