Starstruck: science with the family

One of our family traditions is I take my kids out to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower in August almost every year. While the number of meteors visible varies from year to year, the Perseids are consistent enough to make it a great experience.

Meteor showers happen when the Earth’s orbit takes us through a debris field left by a comet or asteroid. The debris powering the Perseids comes from the Swift-Tuttle Comet.

Perseid Meteor Shower

For an example of the Perseids see this cool time-lapse video from photographer Ben Adkison on CNN. Image above is a screen shot from that video.

This year we went out for the Perseids late Wednesday/early Thursday morning, which was supposed to be the peak and found an especially dark place, darker than any we had been too before for this meteor shower. We turned our gaze to the northeast. In about 90 minutes we saw 25-30 meteor including 2 especially big and beautiful ones. One in particular drew some oohs and ahhs from us and a few other people who had found the same watching place. This was a bit fewer meteors than average for us over the years.

However, the darkness and a crystal clear sky afforded us an amazing view of the stars and even the Milky Way. This was even more impressive to us than the meteor shower. There’s something awe-inspiring about sitting in the dark and being able to really see the stars. It was so quiet too. We just heard an owl, which flew right over us, and crickets. We soaked it all in and talked astronomy. There are far darker places than we found I’m sure, but this was a great experience.

Dark Sky finder

I highly recommend getting out to someplace dark for a meteor shower with your family or even just to watch the stars. Here’s a handy dark skies finder/light pollution website. See screenshot from it above.