Mid summer is meteor time. I saw my first meteorite of the season the other night as I stood ankle deep in the blood warm pool looking up for the regular satellites that sweep across the evening sky into the north. It was a quick streak of light, a thin blade across the soft grey patches of the Milky Way and it cheered me up no end.
The meteors are coming; those sparks of burning comet dust that light up the summer sky and gift wishes on those who will lie on their backs in the dark and wait for them.
Every year from late July until mid August the Perseid meteor shower comes out of the north east sky, radiating from a point close to the constellation Perseus (him of ancient mythology who strides across the night sky casually swinging a Medusa head, as you do!).
This particular meteor shower is a result of the earth passing through the wide debris field left by the comet Swift Tuttle, a huge comet with a long sweeping elliptical orbit that takes it to the outer reaches of the solar system and the frozen mysteries of the oort cloud before it curves back and returns to Earth once every 133 years.
As the Earth passes through the debris field small particles of dust and rock impact with the atmosphere and these flashes and streaks of light form the meteorite shower. Turkey has always been a particularly good viewing point for the Perseids, the consistent weather and sparse population combine to give clear skies and the ability to easily get away from light pollution.
This year’s Perseid shower looks as if it will be a good one despite the full moon in the south west. The very peak of the display will be on 12th/13th August around midnight but now is probably the best time to view because the waxing moon is setting early and the shower is heating up already.
Although it helps if you have a rough idea where the constellation Perseus is it’s not essential as the meteors show up right across the sky, but if you look to the North East around midnight chances are you will see something, chances are you will actually see a lot as on a good night, when the shower is at its peak, the Perseids can produce 50-70 meteors an hour.
If you miss the Perseid meteor shower in August you have a chance to catch the Draconid meteor shower in early October and as the Draconids have the potential to be way more dramatic than the Perseids there is the possibility of witnessing a meteor storm when over 1000 meteors an hour flame through the sky.
This year, 2011, is forecast to produce if not a full on storm then a good chance of a gale as the meteors rush from the constellation Draco and the dragon roars in the Autumn sky.
So promising is this year’s forecast that special interest tour groups are set to journey to Turkey to view the event. So expect to see geeks like me huddled in (lightweight) anoraks in small groups in out of the way places being boring about comet Giacobina-Zinner and its potential to make the northern sky look like its being speared by the gods!
This year I am actually really excited about the meteor showers because, after five years, I’ve finally worked out how to shoot infinity on my Nikon (it was a RTFM issue!) and so I might, possibly, maybe, be able to photograph the shower. It would however involve leaving the lights of the village and heading out into the wild at sunset so come nightfall I am far enough away from light pollution to get a decent view.
Imagine me in the Turkish night, my camera with its short fat tripod perched on a convenient rock gazing cyclops like into the sky. Imagine a faint rustle in the darkness as Shadow steals my sandwiches and the occasional swear word as Nick falls into a hole masked by the warm thick black of a country night. There will be the scuttle of insects in the undergrowth, the dipping, flitting flight of bats just above my head and the high pitched hooting and shrieking of the owls in the pine trees, but I’ve been living in the woods too long to be frightened by the owls! There will be a faint glow on the Western horizon as the sky trackers in Kusadasi ruin the night there with their searching beams. And then, in the North East, where Perseus poses heroically above the horizon, the Perseids will come again and a thousand wishes will streak earthwards.
More about this summers meteorite showers visable from Turkey – National Geographic
More about the forecasted Draconid meteor show in October, looks like Turkey will have a good view – EarthSky