Meteor Shower To Light Up Summer Sky Aug. 12

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Look up at the eastern sky between 2 a.m. and dawn next Friday -- it's the best time in 2005 to view the Perseid Meteor Shower.

"Colorful fireballs, occasional outbursts and almost always, long hours of gracefully streaking meteors," said Dr. Tony Philips of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Perseid is a northern-hemisphere meteor shower visible to the naked eye.

The tail of comet Swift-Tuttle intersects Earth's orbit every year, beginning in mid-July and ending in August.

The meteor shower is caused by tiny bits of comet dust hitting the earth's atmosphere at 132,000 mph.

Also known as "falling stars," these dust particles cause the vivid lines of light that streak across the night sky.

A comet is named according to its nearest, radiant constellation. The Perseids are named for the constellation Perseus.

In Greek mythology, Perseus is the son of Zeus, and killer of the snake-headed Medusa.

Local archeologist and teacher Penny Minturn said the dearth of recorded facts makes it hard to know what ancient man thought of the night sky.

"We do know that they connected the stars with their deities, so it is likely that they felt that something was going on with their gods ...

"I think it would have been met with as much awe as we see it today."

In addition to the Perseids Meteor Shower, Mars is the other celestial treat this year. It's already outshining every star in the sky.

Earth and Mars are moving closer in their orbits -- their closest encounter this year will happen Oct. 12. Mars can be viewed in the constellation Aries, next to Pegasus. Look for an untwinkling, reddish light.

In 2003 Mars was 56 million kilometers from the Earth -- the closest in recorded history. This year at 69 million kilometers, Mars should appear similarly bright and beautiful to the casual observer.

The romance of star gazing and wishing on falling stars is timeless, especially in Payson where there are fewer big city lights.

If monsoon clouds are not obstructing the view, Aug. 12 is a good time to wrap your hands around a cup of hot chocolate and spend time with love ones. The moon will be waxing half way to full so it won't be too bright -- you could see hundreds of meteors over several hours.

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