Shooting Stars – No Telescope Necessary!
For those of you who have an interest in star-gazing, or even those of you who don’t know your Big Dipper from Orion’s Belt, August is a pretty spectacular month for glancing skywards! Every year in August there is a vast increase in the amount of shooting stars that can be seen on a clear night. In fact, these shooting stars are actually tiny pieces of asteroid – usually no bigger than a grain of rice – that burn up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere; thus creating the bright flash that we call a shooting star.
Around a dozen times per year, Earth passes through streams of dust that are left around the Sun by comets, and this triggers an increase in shooting stars. Out of the various times to catch a glimpse of this phenomenon, the best time to look is on the night of the 12th of August. The meteor shower that occurs at this time of year is caused by debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle which only crosses our solar system every 133 years, with 1992 being its last appearance. Despite the comet being rarely visible, however, the Swift-Tuttle still leaves a trail of space dust and pieces of rock in its wake. When the orbit of the earth then passes through this trail, at close to 140,000mph, the pieces of ice and dust enter our atmosphere and turn into bright flames of light as they disintegrate.
Despite the debris coming from the Swift-Tuttle comet, this event is actually called the Perseid meteor shower. This is because the trajectory of the shooting stars indicates that they are coming from an area near the Perseus constellation, located in the north sky.
Watching the meteor shower is not difficult and, in fact, high-tech equipment is useless since binoculars and telescopes focus too closely on one small section of the sky – it would be like trying to spot a whale in the ocean with a magnifying glass! Instead, all you need to view this magnificent event is a blanket, a clear night and a bit of patience.
You will want to find the darkest place possible to increase your viewing odds. Since Geneva is awash in street lights at night, I would recommend driving to the top of the Salève (the limestone cliffs overlooking Geneva). Not only is the Salève dark enough to allow for great star viewing, it also offers a uniquely beautiful view of Geneva at night. If you don’t have a car, then find any park away from the main city lights, sit back, and enjoy!
While you will most likely only catch the movement out of the corner of your eye, with a bit of patience and luck, you will see some really bright shooting stars that appear to be blue, orange, or red.
Some tips from the experts:
Tip 1: The later you start looking, the more you will see since the sky will be darker and there will be fewer lights.
Tip 2: Quite simply, the longer you look, the more you will see! In this instance, patience really is a virtue. In fact, if you wait long enough, you could literally see hundreds of shooting stars, making for a memorable evening!
Whether you are along or with friend, happy star-gazing, and be sure to let Biskotti know about your viewing success!