REDLANDS, CA (June 27, 2011)— Pull out the lawn chairs and get ready for a summer of spectacular meteor showers, says Tyler Nordgren, a physics professor at the University of Redlands who is encouraging families to kick start their summer sky watching by celebrating National Meteor Day on June 30.
Summer meteor events include the Southern Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower, which can produce about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. Looking east after midnight on July 28 and 29 should provide the best opportunities for meteors, Nordgren advises. The radiant point for this shower— the point in the sky from which all meteors will appear to come from— will be in the constellation Aquarius.
“To see a meteor shower, families need no equipment more complicated than lawn chairs or blankets. Just find a dark place away from street lights, lie down, and look up,” says Nordgren, who is the author of “Stars Above, Earth Below: A Guide to Astronomy in the National Parks”.
“Starting at the end of July, we then slowly build to the most consistently impressive meteor shower of summer, the Perseid Meteor Shower of August 13 and 14,” he says.
National Meteor Day kicks off a two-week period during which the number of meteors per hour gradually picks up to a high of up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. Unfortunately, the full moon will impact viewing of the fainter meteors by the time the Perseids peak, so viewers are encouraged to go to a dark location the first week of August.
Meteors are small pieces of rock and metal that form a stream of debris when a comet breaks up; the meteor showers occur when earth passes through the stream’s orbit.
Nordgren has served as an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he helped build a new type of telescope to directly observe the size and shape of such household stars as Pollux and Polaris (the North Star). He was part of a team of seven astronomers and artists who converted the “Spirit” and “Opportunity” Mars Rover camera calibration targets into functioning sundials and saw them land safely in Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum.
This November will see a new sundial headed for Mars that Nordgren helped design when NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Rover, “Curiosity,” launches from Florida on its way to the red planet. Nordgren is a member of the National Park Service Night Sky Team working to protect our parks’ dark skies and promote astronomy education.
Note to the media: Nordgren is available for interviews and to comment on these occurrences. He can be reached via cell phone at 909-215-8130.