Anyway you look at it, summer is a great time of year to gaze at the stars. The nights are warm and celestial events abound. Before you begin, you might want to visit your library or local bookstore to find a book about the night sky. Familiarize yourself with the main constellations so you’ll be able to orientate yourself once you head outside.
The key to great stargazing is to get away from artificial light sources such as streetlights and buildings. StarDate.org recommends that you wait for a night that is clear and dark, preferably one when the Moon is not shining brightly.
For even greater enjoyment, take along a sky watching kit that includes a blanket, binoculars, a simple star chart and a flashlight to read the chart. Covering the end of the flashlight with red paper will reduce the light’s impact on your night vision. Give your eyes about 20 minutes to adjust to the dark, lie back and enjoy what the night sky has to offer.
In particular, there are two meteor showers visible in the night sky during July and August. According to the StarDate website, each shower is named after the constellation from where meteors appear to fall.
July 28 to 30 - Delta Aquarids meteor shower
The best time to watch for the Delta Aquarids is after moonset or just before dawn. Unlike most meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids doesn’t have a definite peak. EarthSky.org predicts that these medium-speed meteors will provide a fairly steady show through July and into early August. Stargazers can expect 15 to 20 sightings per minute, with meteors appearing to radiate from the southern part of the sky.
August 12, 2009 – Perseids
The Perseids meteor shower will be the most visible in the early morning. According to EarthSky.org, “These typically fast and bright meteors radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus, and, like all meteors in annual showers, they cover a large part of the sky.” Thanks to the timing of the phases of the moon this August, 2009 won’t be the best year to view the Perseids, but they should still put on quite a show, leaving their brilliant trails across the pre-dawn sky.
If you really want to see the stars, consider a trip to the Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve. Located southeast of Bala, Torrance Barrens is Canada’s first official Dark Sky Reserve. The growing awareness of light pollution of the night sky and the inability of large sectors of the population to experience and enjoy astronomical events has created a demand for an area where the dark sky can be preserved.
If you’re planning a summer vacation or just looking for a great day of summer activities for your family, check out www.parksday.ca,
For more information about the International Year of Astronomy, visit www.astronomy2009.org.
For events in Canada, check out www.astronomie2009.ca.
EarthSky’s 2009 Meteor Shower Guide is available at www.earthsky.org.
stardate.org is the public education and outreach arm of the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. The website has loads of great information for both novice and experienced stargazers, including Weekly Stargazing Tips.
Established in 1999, The Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve, located near Bracebridge, Ontario, is the world’s first Dark Sky Reserve. Type “Torrance Barrens” into your search engine to visit some of the great sites dedicated to this wonderful national treasure.
"Imagine the Universe" is NASA's offering for kids 14 and up. Go to imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov.