Shooting stars

August 10, 2013 

Every year, nature provides a calendar that traces the cyclical flow of the year: the equinoxes of spring and autumn, the solstices of summer and winter, the rising and falling tides, the waxing and waning moon.

Of these markers, none is more dramatic than the meteor showers known as the Perseids, the annual display of nature’s fireworks that reminds us of summer’s fading, autumn’s awakening.

The curtain of day falls and the stars stand revealed, maintaining a steady drift southwestward. It does not require an astronomer to notice that darkness comes earlier these evenings.

The change in the stars is scarcely noted by most casual observers during these growing hours of darkness. But it is the time of year that stargazers begin to watch for the annual celestial extravaganza, a time when a continuous treat of “shooting stars” stream to their final destruction, as they flash across darkened skies to their demise in a blaze of heavenly glory known as the Perseids showers.

The spectacular show occurs when the Earth’s orbit intersects with the debris stream left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle. Some of the debris falls into our atmosphere and burns.

The showers are so named because they appear to emanate from the vicinity of the constellation Perseus in the northeastern skies. For the best view, go out to watch between 10:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. Sunday and Monday.

The beauty of the Perseids is that all you need is a dark night, an unobstructed view and patience. Sit in a chair or sling a hammock and lie back beneath a star spangled sky to enjoy the light show. The Perseids are nature’s applause at the conclusion of summer’s grand performance. It’s autumn’s turn now. The show goes on.

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