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Eyes to the skies

Conditions ripe for meteor shower, Northern Lights

August 11, 2011
By KURT HAUGLIE - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - People looking up to the sky for the next few days may get a visual treat from two sources.

Robert Nemiroff, professor of physics at Michigan Technological University, said the annual Perseid meteor shower has begun and should peak Saturday night about 11 p.m.

Nemiroff said the Perseid meteor shower is so named because it comes out of the direction of the constellation Perseus.

The shower is actually debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, which has a 130-year orbit around the sun, Nemiroff said.

"Bits fall off the comet," he said. "These things are typically the size of sand."

As the path of the earth passes through the debris, Nemiroff said the particles, which hit the atmosphere burn up, causing the display. Some of the debris is larger, and causes displays called fireballs.

There are many meteor showers during the year, but Nemiroff said the Perseid is particularly worth watching.

"Typically, this is the best meteor shower of the year," he said.

However, on Saturday when the shower peaks, Nemiroff said the moon will be full, which could make watching difficult.

"It's going to require some patience," he said.

The best way to see the shower, Nemiroff said, is to find the darkest spot possible, then just look straight up, blocking the moon, if possible.

Nemiroff said some cell phones have an application which allows the user to find constellations simply by pointing the phone to the sky.

Another good meteor shower is the Leonid, named for the constellation Leo, which Nemiroff said appears in mid to late November.

"Sometimes, it's really spectacular," he said.

Although a particular meteor shower may have a good reputation for display, Nemiroff said from year to year, it's not known how good they will be until they happen.

Besides being lit up by meteors, Nemiroff said current solar activity will increase the chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.

"It's another reason to go out and look at the sky," he said.



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