Summer's annual meteor shower promises to put on a dazzling show when it peaks this weekend - provided you're far from city lights.
With no moon in sight to interfere with the Perseid meteor shower, skygazers can expect to spot streaking fireballs late Sunday into dawn Monday regardless of time zone. Astronomers estimate as many as 60 meteors per hour could flit across the sky at the shower's peak.
This year's sky show comes with an added bonus: Mars will be visible as a bright red dot in the northeastern sky.
"We have front-row seats this year," said Kelly Beatty, executive editor of Sky & Telescope magazine.
Last year's Perseid shower was somewhat of a dud because the moon's glare washed out many of the faint meteors. This weekend's meteor shower coincides with a new moon, which means the skies will be dark and perfect for viewing meteors.
Experts offer some tips to get the most out of nature's fireworks: Since Perseid meteors can be seen from any direction in the sky, viewers should pick out a dark patch of sky free of light pollution and wait for the meteors to appear.
Dim meteors appear as a momentary flash of light while the brighter ones leave a glowing streak. The number of Perseids zipping across the sky should increase steadily through the night, peaking just before sunrise. Although the peak occurs this weekend, the Perseids are visible for several nights after that.
Unlike other celestial sightings that require a telescope or binoculars, the best way to watch a meteor shower is with the naked eye.
Malcolm D. Wilcox of Madison County suggested those in the region wear a catcher's mitt for this weekend's meteor shower. Wilcox collects pieces of meteorites and said Tennessee is the fourth highest impact area in the nation.
"Everybody's got them around their house," Wilcox said.
Look for the meteor shower in the Big Dipper, starting Saturday night, Wilcox added. The best time to see it is after midnight, he said.
The Perseids are perhaps the most beloved of all meteor showers because of their predictability. The August shower gets its name from the constellation Perseus because the meteors appear to originate there.
The annual Perseid shower occurs when the Earth's orbit crosses the path of debris thrown off by Comet Swift-Tuttle. As the cosmic junk - many the size of a grain of sand - enters the atmosphere, it burns up in a flash, appearing as "shooting stars" across the sky.
In the past, the Perseid showers have produced such spectacular displays that people swamped radio stations with reports of a mysterious light in the sky.
Wilcox has been collecting meteorites since 1956. A 17 mm one shattered the rear windshield of his wife's car last June, Wilcox said.
The Smithsonian Insitute examined a sample and verified it was a meteorite, he added.
Wilcox has a 565-pound stony iron metorite he found in Oakfield in his backyard. He displays some of his finds at Yarbro's Antique Mall at 350 Carriage House Drive in Jackson.
Wilcox has necklaces he makes from the rocks on sale at the antique mall. The rocks can be valuable, he said. A 1,400 pound rock Steve Arnold of Arkansas found in Kansas is valued at $3 million, Wilcox added.
"There's money falling out of the sky, and people just don't know it," he said.
He's bought some of Arnold's meteorite. A necklace he made using a 6- to 8-gram piece of the rock recently sold for $125, Wilcox added.
He encourages people, especially retirees, to buy magnets attached to sticks and go meteorite hunting.
Perseid is one of the most common annual meteor showers. The Earth generally makes its rendezvous with them between mid-July and August-end. Astronomers think its member meteors are the ejected dust portions of the Swift-Tuttle comet. The Perseids are so called because tracing their tails back in the night sky mostly leads to the constellation Perseus.
A meteor [ meteoroid] is a solid object, moving sporadically in the space with no specific orbit. When it nears a planet or moon, it is caught in the gravitational pull and comes down. Depending on situation, meteors are called by different names -- when cruising through the space it is called a meteor [meteoroid], when plummeting through the atmosphere, it is meteoroid [a meteor] and when it falls onto the ground, it becomes a meteorite.
Meteor shower is the condition when a large number of meteors -- some are small, some mid-sized and some large -- seem to be coming out from a certain point in the sky and scattering at random. Its source point is called radiant. Each of the showers has been named after the constellation from where they seem to originate.
Humans have observed from pre-historic times [how would one know] that meteor showers are regular yearly phenomena and some of them have particular time to occur. Perseid is one of them.
In a research it has been calculated that the Earth's gravitational pull brings down thousands of tons of meteors on its surface every day. These fireballs don't hit us because, luckily, three-fourths of the planet is covered with water.
When tiny meteors hit the atmosphere, they burn up in a fiery streak. This spatial display in the night sky creates a natural phenomena which is a different spectacle altogether.
Meteor showers are usually visible in the cloudless sky from midnight through dawn. On August 12 and 13, Perseid was at its peak -- meteors were falling down at its maximum (about 15-20 pieces an hour). It was visible from Dhaka too as the cloudy sky cleared after midnight. A few Bolides (relatively large meteoroid [meteor]) [very doubtful] were also seen at the time. Some Dhaka residents said they saw 15-20 fireballs within 15-20 minutes after 2:00am. The shooting stars will be visible this week too and has the possibility to be seen till August 24 though showering rate will shrink to 5-10 pieces an hour.
Meteoroid [Meteors are] is not clearly visible in light pollution. Riverside or village field is a better place to watch the beauty that is visible to the naked eye. Here one thing is worth mentioning. Bangladesh got her first [poor word choice] meteorite at Shingpara, a tiny Thakurgaon village, on January 31, 2006. It is called 'Bangla Met' [strange it has not been authenticated and thus properly named ], now kept at National Science Museum at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Dhaka. Records say eight more meteorites were found in Bangladesh before 'Bangla Met', the last one in Bhola in 1940. The then government took all of them to London.
The Bangladesh government should properly utilise this solar object, and display it to students at science festivals, which will help create space awareness among the youth.