A Fall Of Starlight



Payson's night life could sizzle this weekend, especially Saturday between midnight and the wee hours of morning.

At that time, even with the moon just past full, if monsoon clouds allow, this year's Perseid meteor shower will be at its peak.


Lowell Observatory has a storied history of looking to the heavens.

"Meteors are best viewed with the naked eye because they are moving so fast," said Lowell Observatory outreach manager, Kevin Schindler.

"The Perseid meteors are moving at something like 35 miles per second -- imagine covering the distance between Flagstaff and Phoenix in about 4 seconds," Schindler said.

While meteors are still orbiting the sun they are called meteoroids.

Ninety-nine percent of meteoroids are as small as a grain of sand. They become visible streaks of light when they hit the earth's atmosphere.

Usually the light appears white or blue-white, but yellow and orange are frequently seen colors as well.

"The colors seem more related to the speed of the meteor rather than composition," according to Gary W. Kronk's "Comets & Meteor Showers" at http://comets.amsmeteors.org/.

"Red meteors occasionally appear as very long streaks and are usually indicative of a meteor that is skimming the atmosphere. Green meteors are also occasionally seen and are usually very bright. The green color may be a result of ionized oxygen."

The surface of the moon is sort of a powdery dust because (over millennia) micrometeors that did not burn up in the atmosphere landed on the surface where they broke surface rock into a thin powder called ‘regolith.'

When the astronauts went to the moon in 1969 there were some folks who thought maybe they would just sink into the regolith, said Schindler.

Back on our planet, meteor showers are named for the constellation from which they seem to radiate in all directions.

Thus, the Perseids were named for the constellation Perseus. He is the mythological Greek hero who killed the snake headed monster Medusa and saved princess Andromeda from Poseidon's sea-monster.

We are hitting that time of year, that depending on weather and moon-phase, when there are several strong meteor showers to view Schindler said.

Next up are:

Orionids: Oct. 15-29, peak Saturday, Oct. 21 (full moon Oct. 7).

Leonids: Nov. 13-20, peak Friday, Nov. 17 (full moon Nov. 5).

Geminids: Dec. 6-19, peak Thursday, Dec. 14 (full moon Dec. 5).

Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff is giving an educational program on the Perseid Meteor Shower. Indoor programs will focus on meteor showers such as the upcoming Perseids. Telescope viewing of various celestial objects is included in the evening's activities. The doors open at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11.

Admission: adults $5, youth 5-17 $2, AAA/senior/student $4, children 4 and under are free. Reservations are not accepted. "Evening tickets are available when we open at night, or may be purchased during the day for that evening's program," Schindler said.

The observatory is hosting two events in September.

The Labor Day Star Fest is Sunday, Sept. 2.

This event will feature numerous telescopes set up for viewing throughout the Lowell campus and indoor video presentations.oors open at 7:30 p.m.

Festival of Science Open House is the evening of Sunday, Sept. 24. All visitors are admitted free, doors open at 7:30 p.m.

This event features telescope viewing of various celestial objects, and access to the Historic Rotunda Library, featuring several new exhibits.

The rotunda was the observatory's original library, built in 1916. In the 1980s and 90s it became the visitors center. Now the rotunda is set up more like a museum.

It is normally only open during the day, but for the open house it will be open at night.

Visitors will be able to see astronomer and founder, Percival Lowell's first telescope he owned as a boy of 15 years and the telescope A.E. Douglass used in 1894 to determine the best location for the observatory.

Lowell is famous for Clyde Tombaugh's discovery, based on earlier research by Lowell, of the planet Pluto in 1930.

For more information log onto www.lowell.edu or call (928) 774-3358.

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