It’s August and the garden is giving all it can—a reward for the hard work put in. Sometimes, it seems that between the weeding, watering, pruning, and pest management, the fates have conspired to keep you busy and only when the planets align and the Earth passes through the tail of a comet will you get a break. Well, you can thank your lucky stars because, on August 12th, three planets will align and the Earth will pass through the center of the Comet Swift-Tuttle’s trail. Best of all, because the moon will only be a thin sliver and will set early, it can be seen with the naked eye.
It will be a singular night. At sundown, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and the waxing crescent moon will cluster within a 5-degree radius, according to NASA. By roughly 10pm, the planets and the moon will set and the fabulous Perseid meteor shower will begin. Streaks of falling debris from the trail of the Comet Swift-Tuttle will fill the sky until dawn. The yearly spray of shooting stars, with an intensity of up to 50-60 streaks per hour, seems to come from the constellation Perseus, seen best here in the Northeast.
Dark areas far from cityscapes are best for meteor-gazing and, according to StarDate Online, a site operated by the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, all one needs to enjoy the meteor shower are comfortable chairs, bug spray, food, drinks and blankets. The website also recommends a red-filtered flashlight, used to read maps and charts, if available. However, it does not recommend binoculars, as the lights will be bright enough to see without them. If the Little Dipper can be seen with the naked eye, then the observation point chosen is dark enough.
Two state parks within driving distance of Reading have planned events related to the meteor shower. The Perseid Meteor Shower Family Campout, located in the Giving Pond Recreation Area of Delaware Canal State Park, will start at 8pm and will last until 8am, depending on the weather. The cost is $5 per person, which goes to the park’s Environmental Education programs. Registration is required and the program will be canceled in the event of overcast or rainy conditions. For more information and directions, see their website.
Bucks-Mont Astronomical Association is holding a StartWatch event at Nockamixon State Park in Quakertown, PA on August 13th, from 9-11pm. Admission is free to look at the aligned planets, the moon, and distant stars and nebulae through their powerful telescopes, as well as get a tour of the constellations and advise from the amateur astronomers. While the meteor shower is best seen in the early hours of August 13th, some of the meteors should be present during the StarWatch event. For more information and directions, see their website. They also recommend calling their information line at (215) 579 9973 before coming, in case the event is cancelled due to inclement weather.
For more information on the Perseid and other meteor showers, please see the following websites: