Thursday, 6 August 2009
What’s Up for August? Meteors!
Hello and welcome. I’m Jane Houston Jones at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. 2009 is International Year of Astronomy. And each month this year we’re showcasing a great celestial object or event. This month it’s the Perseid Meteor Shower! Have you ever wondered what makes these cosmic fireworks? Meteor showers are just the debris of a passing comet or sometimes the debris from a fragmented asteroid. When a comet nears the sun, its icy surface heats up.This causes clouds of gas, dirt and dust to be released, forming a tail of debris that can stretch for millions of miles. As Earth passes near the dusty tail, some of the dust particles hit our atmosphere.They burn up and create the great celestial fireworks we see. NASA generates meteor shower forecasts to prevent potential hazards to spacecraft that are launching or orbiting Earth. NASA also monitors these showers to check the accuracy of the forecasts. NASA’s Deep Impact mission is now on an extended mission called EPOXI. It will visit comet Hartley 2 in 2010. And the Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres flies by Vesta for the first time in 2011, and flies by the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. You don't need a telescope or binoculars to view a meteor shower. In fact, meteor showers are best seen with the unaided eye. You'll see some Perseids all month long -- before and after midnight – but the real fireworks will appear in the wee hours of Wednesday, August 12th.Between 2 and 4 a.m. local time, look for up to 100 meteors per hour. Meteor showers are best seen in the hours after midnight.That's when Earth is facing the direction in which the dust particles are colliding with our atmosphere. And as a bonus for staying up late, two planets are visible in the eastern sky – one bright and the other faint. Venus is just rising low on the horizon and is much brighter.Mars, despite that e-mail hoax about it being big and bright this month, appears as a reddish faint star-like object above Venus. And Jupiter shines as a brilliant beacon in the west.Through a telescope, you might even be able to see nearby Neptune! You can learn all about NASA's missions at www.nasa.gov That’s all for this month, I’m Jane Houston Jones.