Tonight: A heavenly light show you shouldn’t miss

August 12, 2010

Eye on Faith and Science

shootingstarSummer is a good time for picnics — opening a basket of snacks, stretching out on a blanket and staring up at a beautiful blue sky.

But have you ever considered having a picnic at night, say around midnight or 1 a.m., when the night sky is studded with the light of countless stars?

If that sounds intriguing, you should head to an open, grassy area late tonight (Aug. 12) or in the predawn hours on Friday, and get ready for a special light show. If the sky is clear, you’ll see not only stars and planets, but also one of the best meteor showers of the year — the Perseids.

Last year at this time, as part of the International Year of Astronomy, I wrote an editorial in The Catholic Spirit encouraging people to view this annual August display of “shooting stars” — actually small bits of rock and dust that stream brightly through the earth’s atmosphere.

This debris is associated with comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 133 years. As the small pieces crash toward earth, they burn up and create streaks of light across the sky. They appear to originate in the constellation Perseus, which rises in the northeast.

Last year, from my home in suburban St. Paul, I was able to see a meteor every minute or two. This year, the experts predict the shower will reach a peak of about 80 meteors per hour. The moon will set before the best part of the show kicks in, so viewing conditions should be excellent, if the weather cooperates.

The Perseids are sure to elicit oohs and aahs, especially from children and adults who’ve never seen or paid much attention to such celestial events. And, what kid doesn’t appreciate the opportunity to stay up late to see something cool?

Parents: Don’t overlook the opportunity to use this as a segue into a discussion about the awesomeness of the universe that God created and our place in it. If you’re looking for some Scripture passages to start the discussion, try these: Genesis 1:16-19, Psalm 148:1-6 and Psalm 8:1, 3-5.

If you want to learn more about the Perseids, you can join an online chat with astronomer Bill Cooke from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center today (Aug. 12) from 2-3 p.m. central time. He’ll answer questions about the meteor shower and the best ways to view it.

You can also visit the Hayden Planetarium’s website for additional observing tips.

So, pack a snack and a comfortable chair or blanket and head outside tonight for an awesome, heavenly light show.

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

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