Every summer Earth plows through the trail of a comet creating the Perseid meteor shower.
The comet and its tail are so spread out, residents of this planet get to see the comet itself once every 130 years or so, but the shooting stars are on display each August. Last seen in 1992, the comet Swift-Tuttle creates the meteor shower as bits of dirty ice and other detritus trailing the comet burn up, explains the president of the Victoria arm of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
The particles hit about 100 km above the earth and the atmosphere slows them, heats them and that’s when we get the glow of ‘shooting stars’ streaking across the sky. Some are even as small as a ballpoint pen tip, said Randy Enkin.
“We’re not going to see those really tiny ones here,” the Victoria resident added.
The show is already underway, but peaks the night of Aug. 11. Enkin suggests finding dark sky the next day around 4 a.m.
“It just keeps getting better and better as you go into the morning.”
While Cattle Point in Oak Bay is a designated dark skies park – Enkin is a frequent visitor – the lights of the city and nearby neighbourhoods still affect viewing.
Enkin has previously had good viewing from Victoria Golf Club as well, but most recommended in Greater Victoria are the dark skies of the Saanich Peninsula, he said.
“We don’t have the moon as a source of light pollution this year, we just have to deal with human made (light).”
The meteors move north to south. Look toward the constellation Cassiopeia – forming a W shape in the sky – to see more plentiful, shorter meteors, look away and there will be fewer, but nice and long, the astronomer suggested. Early in the evening, he noted, they’ll look like they’re all coming from a single point.
While residents can spot the bits of dust and ice glowing hot as they zip through the atmosphere, it’s unlikely any chunks will fall to Earth.
“We’re not expecting any meteorites from this sort of meteor shower,” Enkin said.
Pleasant weather for watching the skies is likely the lead cause of popularity of the Perseid meteor shower. By contrast, Geminid meteor showers feature colourful, brighter and longer shooting stars in December when cloud cover is commonly present, but it’s colder out, Enkin noted.
The weather forecast for Aug. 11 and 12 for the bulk of Vancouver Island does include small amounts of cloud, and warm overnight lows in the 14 C to 16 C range.
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