Perseid meteor shower set to dazzle Toronto area skies
The annual Perseid Meteor Shower is about to rain down on the Toronto area, and this year's show could be particularly spectacular. In an average year, stargazers might see 60 to 80 shootings stars an hour during the peak of the Perseid shower, but this year that number could reach 200.
The potential outburst comes thanks to Jupiter's gravitational pull. Astronomers note that the planet's orbit has shifted the path of the debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle closer to Earth, which orbits the sun every 133 years and is responsible for this particular celestial event.
In previous years Jupiter's orbital path has affected Swift-Tuttle's debris field, the Perseid shower has been more intense, but because the cometary debris we're talking about dates all the way back to the year 1079 (not a typo), it's difficult to know how much of it is intact. If much of it is, prepare for some astral fireworks.
There are, of course, a number of caveats to cover. If planning to view the Perseids, you need to make a bit of a commitment -- merely staring up at the sky from a city park won't be very rewarding. As such, here are some tips to maximize your experience.
People who live far from light pollution have probably already noticed meteor activity as Earth has entered the outer portions of Swift-Tuttle's debris field, but the peak of the shower will be Thursday night leading into the earliest hours of Friday morning. The best time to be watching is 1:00 a.m. to 4 a.m. on August 12, when the moon has just set.
If that doesn't work, you can also witness lots of meteor activity during nightfall before and after the peak (i.e. tonight and Friday). Be sure to check the Clear Sky forecast to make sure that you'll actually be able to see meteors and not just clouds no matter when you plan to watch.
This is the really the key question. There are some events planned in Toronto, but to see meteors with any frequency, you have to head to the darkest area possible. Now's the time to hit up that friend of yours who owns a cottage or to plan a trip up north.
To evaluate your chances of a successful viewing, use the dark sky map to find an area that's well shielded from light pollution. If a cottage isn't an option, your best bet near Toronto is the Torrance Barrens Dark Sky Preserve near Gravenhurst. A number of provincial parks near the city would also work well for star gazing.
Fortunately, this is the easy part. Just get somewhere dark and look up. Because you're going to want to stay a while, be sure to dress appropriately and have somewhere comfortable to sit. Meteors will appear all across the sky, but their radiant point will be in the northeast in the constellation of Perseus.
Photo by Mlu.fotos on Flickr.
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