Pretty Perseids put on a perfect performance

Wednesday, August 6th 2008, 3:08 pm
By: News 9

By News9 Meteorologist Carrie Rose.  UPDATED MONDAY, AUGUST 11, 2008.

If you've been reserving your outdoor activities recently for the dark hours, you may have seen some lights streaming across the sky occasionally.  These are meteors entering the Earth's atmosphere and burning. 

This time of the year each year, Earth's orbit passes through the dust trail left by Comet Swift-Tuttle.  Even though the comet itself is far away from Earth, outside the orbit of Uranus, the debris trail stretches all the way to the inner parts of our solar system. 

Earth entered the dust trail last week, and will be in the highest concentration of celestial dust by the morning of August 12.  Between 2 a.m. and Dawn Tuesday, get away from city lights if you can and look east and up about halfway toward the constellation Perseus.  It's okay if you're an amateur astronomer and can't tell the difference between Venus and the North Star!  Just look east and upward, sit still for a few minutes, and you should see a meteor go streaming across the sky.  These burning specks of comet dust will move radially outward from the constellation Perseus. 

Talk about a rapid approach--the dust specks will be moving at 132,000 mph into the Earth's atmosphere!  To give you some perspective, the space shuttle re-enters the atmosphere at about 17,500 mph, then gradually slows to about 200 mph upon landing.  So these meteors are traveling 7.5 times faster than the shuttle upon re-entry!

The Perseids should put on a good show for us this year, with the Moon setting at 2:28 a.m. and a high density of dust expected.  You can plan on seeing 50 to 100 meteors per hour, which translates to about one or two meteors per minute.  In meteor shower terms, that's a good show! 

However, it looks like much of the state will not have ideal viewing conditions because of cloud-cover.  The low pressure system that brought heavy rain Monday morning will still be exiting the region overnight into Tuesday morning, leaving lingering lower level clouds over at least the eastern half of the state.  The most likely places to be able to see the stars and view the shower are in the western third of Oklahoma.

Happy stargazing...well, if you can see the stars, that is.