Every August, the night skies erupt in a blaze of light, and all over the world people find dark areas to sit and watch nature’s own fireworks show.
It’s the Perseids meteor shower, an annual event also celebrated every year by the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory and local astronomers. Friday night, they’re inviting the public to the grounds of the observatory to watch the show, listen to expert speakers and maybe do a little bit of star-gazing through telescopes provided by members of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Al Fischer, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, explains that the meteors are the debris trail of the Swift-Tuttle comet, which orbits the sun once every 130 years.
Every time it comes around it leaves a trail. This one has been going on for, they figure, about 2,000 years,” said Fischler, explaining that the meteors are actually very small. “They are mostly the size of grains of sand. But they are coming in at thousands of kilometres an hour.”
The Perseids draw a lot of attention, not only because the shower of meteors is a regular event, but also the number and brightness of those that fall to earth as the planet moves through the debris trail. While the little ones leave bright streaks across the sky, up to 100 per hour at the peak, a few larger meteors can be even more dramatic.
“That’s the pebble size coming in; if they are pebble-sized, they leave a fireball,” said Fischler.
In addition to viewing the meteors, however, club members are also bringing along a few telescopes for visitors to view the night sky; though not the meteors, he explained.
“If you happen to have the telescope pointed at the right place at the right time, you might see a streak of light across the field of view. We don’t observe meteors with a telescope,” said Fischler.
Instead they’ll be aiming the telescopes at some spectacular stellar scenery, including double stars and star clusters.
DRAO astronomers Ken Tapping, Roland Kothes and Ryan Ransom will also be on scene, giving a series of talks starting at 8:15 p.m. The gates open at 7:30 p.m. For directions to the observatory at White Lake, visit http://tinyurl.com/draometeor or call 250-497-2300.