Perseids Meteor Shower

By | August 8, 2011

Every August that I was up north as a kid, we were allowed to stay up late to watch the Perseids meteor shower. It always fell near my grandmother’s birthday, which is how hers is one of the only birthdays I can remember beyond immediate family. We’d set up lawn chairs in the sand crest of the dune next to the family cottage, and look up and out over Grand Traverse Bay.

During the peak days (August 12 and 13), sky-gazers will see 60 meteors an hour shoot across the night sky, but the shower technically begins on July 23 and continues until August 22.

The meteor shower is caused when the Earth passes through the debris field of a comet. In this case it’s the Swift-Tuttle comet, which has been observed for about 2,000 years. Because the shower occurs close to August 10, Catholics used to call the event the “tears of St. Lawrence.” The 10th is his day. (Side note: St. Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks and chefs because while he was being martyred on a gridiron, he made cracks about being cooked enough to eat [shudder].)

Young kids don’t get to spend a lot of time outside at night, and this is a great opportunity to open their eyes to astronomy. Beforehand, be sure to bone up on your constellations. I am no expert, but I feel like everyone should be able to point out the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and the North Star. There are plenty of resources online for this sort of thing, or pick up the National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky. That’s been a favorite of mine for a couple years now. (It makes great reading even if you’re not trying to impress your kids.)

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