Stargasm: A beginner's guide to enjoying meteor showers and the night sky.
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Stargasm: A beginner's guide to enjoying meteor showers and the night sky.

Spending a night beneath the Perseid meteor shower.

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Stargasm: A beginner's guide to enjoying meteor showers and the night sky.
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I remember as a child being absolutely captivated by the night sky. While growing up, I watched "Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer" on PBS, listening intently for astronomical news. Every so often, I would bundle up in my long johns, slip on my sneakers, hose down in bug spray and burst out the backdoor, down the hill to my hammock. I would remain there the entire night, taken by the beauty of what I imagined to be falling stars.

Despite the internet replacing my PBS viewing, a few nights ago I returned to my old ways. Once again, I wandered about my backyard staring up through the--now narrower--picture frame of tree branches to the wonders that reside beyond. Even with the light pollution attributed to living in the middle of town, I could still clearly see slashes of light pierce through the sky.

Between the night of August 11th and the morning of August 12th, the 2016 Perseid meteor shower peaked. Unfortunately from my viewpoint, the radiant of the shower and it's namesake--the constellation of Perseus--was located behind treetops for most of it. However, Perseus' celestial neighbor Cassiopeia stayed visible, along with a multitude of streaking lights that emanated from their direction.

The Perseid meteor shower is normally the most prolific meteor shower of the year, due to the large size of its originating comet Swift-Tuttle. Known for having one of the highest rates of showers seen in the Northern Hemisphere, the Perseids also has the most fireballs, or extremely bright and easily seen meteors.

For those of you who don't remember 8th grade astronomy, a meteor shower happens when a multitude of meteors (meteoroids entering Earth's atmosphere) occur within the same time frame, usually the result of Earth crossing the path of a comet. While orbiting the sun, small bits of rock and dust become dislodged from the icy comet and when Earth crosses its orbit, these bits of rock and dust enter the Earth's atmosphere. As they heat from the friction, or drag, of falling through the air toward Earth, spectators well below on the Earth's surface see a spectacular streak of light.

If you missed the Perseid outburst this year, don't fret. While the Perseids don't make another appearance until next August (another outburst is many years away), there are several other noteworthy showers that take place throughout the year. Orionids (October 21-22), Leonids (November 16-17) and Geminids (December 13-14) are still to come in 2016.

In the meantime, if you'd like to take up stargazing, here's a few helpful hints and links for beginners to get a head start on the next meteor shower. Be mindful of the full moon which will obscure your view of many fainter objects, but also get to know the night sky and its constellations. A great app I like to use is "Skyview Free." One of its many features includes a location generated, interactive sky map that finds celestial objects simply by pointing your phone at them (while using night friendly lighting to illustrate constellations without hurting your night-adjusted eyes). Another cool feature allows you to create a stargazing music playlist (mine of course includes Meteor Shower by Rhett Miller). It's also important to keep track of things you can see with the naked eye via applications like "SkyWeek," making sure to plan ahead for successful adventures. Lastly, find a dark location, if possible, with a wide view of the horizon, away from the light pollution of cities. Of course, depending on where you live, this can be quite a task. The website "Active Junky" has a wonderful article detailing how to "Darken Your Sky." Most importantly though, sit back and relax. As Horkheimer would say, "Keep looking up!"

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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