Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Perseid! Perseid!

If today's day were clear, I would have rather gone onto the roof to wait until three in the morning.But alas it is not so. However just as I speak, the clouds are clearing. And hopefully I will get to make a wish tonight.

For some of the astronomy-enthusiasts in India, Perseid Meteor Shower is an elusive phenomenon. Not because we can't see it, but because it is mostly overshadowed. Why, I can remember the last time I saw the perseid, it as more than 4 years ago and that too an elusive one amongst clouds. I know it might be no different today, but yet the excitement of meteor showers doesn't stop.

But it was not so for many years!
Up until the 19th cnetury, no one linked meteors to rocks falling from space, but thought of them as Atmospheric phenomenon. Thomas Jefferson wrote "I would more easily believe that a Yankee professor would lie than that stones would fall from heaven." He was referring to Yale chemistry professor Benjamin Silliman' investigation of an 1807 meteorite that fell in Weston, Connecticut. Silliman believed the meteor had a cosmic origin, but meteors did not attract much attention from astronomers until the spectacular meteor storm of November 1833.

This was called the Leonid Storm. There are no photographs of the shower itself, but there are some woodcuts and paintings which survive. Take for example, this on:

This picture shows the magnificence. Over a hundred thousand meteors appeared in an hour, some of them crashing down in the backwards of people.

Generally, Leonid is considered to be most active of the meteor showers. But recently , the comet which brought meteors of the Leonid had a close encounter with the gigantic Jupiter. This
has disrupted the path of the comet, and any plus one hundred thousand meteors per hour is highly unlikely in the near future.

However this leaves us the Perseid. Today, it is the most brightest and spectacular Meteor shower today.
Hopefully, you will see mnore of them tonight, for it attains maximum Hourly Zenithal Rate (the rate of how many meteors appear in an hour) at nearly 3am tomorrow night (i.e 0830 GMT on 13th August 2009). Keep an eye on the Constellation of Perseus. And just above the star
of Algol the Demon (The Winking Demon, Algol) you will see the Meteors rushing through.

Make a wish!
Happy wishing!

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