Observing the Perseid Meteor Shower 2010

Aug 15, 2010

If you pay attention to the news headlines, you may have heard about the Perseid Meteor Shower this past week. This meteor shower is the result of debris from a comet burning up as it enters Earth's atmosphere. The burning chunks of space rocks leave streaks across the night sky, which are also called falling stars or shooting stars. They appear to originate in the sky near the constellation Perseus, which is where the name comes from.

The shower is visible nightly from July 23rd to August 24th, with the peak viewing hours taking place on Thursday, August 12th between midnight and dawn. Because astronomy and photography are two of my favorite hobbies, and I decided to make a serious attempt to view this year's show.

A few nights before the shower was supposed to peak, I spent some time checking out a few astronomy websites and blogs. The experts agreed that thanks to the new moon and clear skies, conditions would be just about perfect for observing the Perseid shower this year.

Finally Thursday night came around and I packed up my car up with the telescope, camera, tripod, flashlight, folding chairs, and of course, water. I drove about 20 miles north of Phoenix to Table Mesa Road, just past the town of New River.

Table Mesa is a popular area for 4-wheeling, and there are miles of dirt roads extending out into the desert. There are no streetlights and the surrounding hills block most of the light pollution from the city.

I had hoped to get a photo of a meteor streaking across the sky, but ultimately that did not happen. I did however get a couple of good shots of the night sky. Check them out:

The Big DipperUrsa Major ("The Big Dipper") visible low in the Northern sky.

CassiopeiaCassiopeia visible near the Big Dipper.

I arrived at 9pm and stuck around for about two hours. During that time, I saw a total of about 10 to 15 shooting stars in the southeast corner of the sky. This was a bit less than I had expected after reading the astronomy websites. Still, it was a neat experience and I enjoyed it.

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