Annual Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks This Week
If you are tired of looking at screens, head outside and look for a show in the northern part of the sky this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The annual Perseid Meteor Shower started in July, but hits its peak this week. For the next couple of nights -- if it's not too cloudy and you are away from light pollution -- Weiskopf Observatory Manager Vicki Funke said any Illinoisan should be able to see the spectacle in the sky.
Funke described what to expect.
"You'll see a streak of light going across the skies," she said. "Usually the Perseids are yellow because they have a lot of sodium, but I have seen some that are more orange or green."
Funke explained that the meteor shower is not a series of "shooting stars" but actually rocks and grains of sand left over from a comet.
"It goes about 130,000 miles per hour, and it heats up the air around it," she said. "That's what makes the air glow and that's why you're able to see that as it goes through the atmosphere."
To an observer, the meteors appear to come from the constellation Perseus, which is why the event is called the Perseid Meteor Shower.
Funke said the Weiskopf Observatory is hosting outdoor viewing for the shower at the Jarrett Prairie Nature Preserve. The public is invited to attend this free event.
"If you're outside, I don't think you really need to wear a mask," she said. "But you do if you're in the observatory." The Weiskopf Observatory will be open Tueday night for sky viewing programs using their 11 inch Celestron telescope.
But what if you plan to stay outside?
"Spread yourselves out, which we normally do anyway," she said. "We have a lot of room up there on top of the hill and I just kind of walk between the groups. I have my laser pointer and I point out constellations, stars and planets."
Funke requested that drivers dim their headlights when approaching the forest preserve.
"The light really does interfere with viewing anything in the sky, whether it's a meteor or something else."
The moon is in its last quarter so, Funke said, it is about half lit.
"That's quite a bit of light," said Funke, "but that doesn't come up until after midnight and we're only going to be here until midnight."
Funk anticipates "pretty good viewing" because the weather is supposed to be clear in northern Illinois on at least August 11 and August 12. "Thursday," she predicted, "might be partly cloudy."
But if you can't make it to Jarrett, Funke said, weather permitting, you should be able to see the meteor shower from anywhere dark in Illinois.
"Meteors are just fun to watch and it's fun to be outside at night. You don't get an opportunity to do things out at nighttime very often and it's just relaxing."
Jarrett Prairie Nature Preserve is located at 7993 North River Road in Byron. If you plan to go there, bring your lawn chair, blankets and, if you have them, binoculars.