Backyard sky watchers are preparing for the main event of the year for meteor showers this weekend. With any luck the cloudy skies forecasted will clear and provide watchers with front row seats.
The annual Perseid meteor shower, which will reach its peak from August 11 to 13, is scheduled to deliver some of the brightest meteors streaking across a moonless night sky.
It is called the Perseid because of its location in the night sky. Meteors radiate out of the constellation Perseus and can be seen across the entire sky.
According to new research from NASA, the Perseid meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other. Since 2008, the space agency has been tracking fireball activity in the southern United States and has built up a database of events.
“We have found that one meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other,” explained Bill Cooke of NASA’s meteoroid environment office. “It’s the Perseid meteor shower.”
A fireball is a very bright meteor, at least as bright as the planets Jupiter or Venus. They can be seen on any given night as random meteoroids strike Earth’s upper atmosphere. One fireball every few hours in not unusual, but when Earth is passing through a comet’s debris stream, like it is currently, fireballs become more numerous. At its peak, sky watchers could witness anywhere from 50 to 100 meteors per hour.
Every year in early to mid August, Earth passes through a cloud of dust sputtered off by the Swift-Tuttle comet, which passes through the inner solar system every 130 years. It was discovered in 1862.
Cooke thinks the Perseids are rich in fireballs because of the size of the parent comet.
“Swift-Tuttle has a huge nucleus—about 26 kilometres in diameter,” said Cooke. “Most other comets are much smaller, with nuclei of only a few kilometres across.”
Before midnight the meteor rate will start low, then increase as the night wears on, he said.
The best time to see the meteor shower is after midnight to 4 am in a place away from the interference of city lights.
“For every fireball that streaks out of Perseus, there will be dozens more ordinary meteors,” he added. “Get away from city lights. While fireballs can be seen from urban areas, the much greater number of faint Perseids is visible only from the countryside.”
BC Forest Service crews had a busy long weekend across the province battling at least 200 fires caused by lightning strikes.
The month-long dry weather has left forests tinder dry and fire danger rating has been raised throughout BC. Campfire bans are in place in many of the fire regions including Coastal Fire Centre area.
“The Powell River area is in high and areas north of the city are in extreme,” said Coastal Fire Centre fire information officer Marg Drysdale.
In the Powell River area, firefighters battled two spot fires north and south of town.
Quick response to fires near Jervis Inlet and Teakerne Arm, with helicopters and initial attack crews, meant the fires did not have the opportunity to spread.
When crews reached the Jervis Inlet fire they discovered it was small at approximately eight by 20 feet in size, said Drysdale. “But with the right wind and conditions anything can take off,” she said. “They got on it quickly and had good results putting it out.”
The Teakerne Arm fire, which was roughly five by 10 feet and reported by Canadian Coast Guard, presented slightly more challenge. After putting it out, crews discovered hot spots the next day.
“We are finding with the fires they are getting a little harder to put out,” she said. “That fire took 80 litres of water. It just means they are digging in pretty deep right now.”