I was born just about 27 years ago during the Perseids meteor shower. Usually these early August days are sweltering and the meteors that fly at night look like electrical fuses burning out. In the past, I have been lucky enough to watch these meteor showers from my family’s house on Long Island. But since my birthday and the apex of the meteor shower arrive on the unaccommodating time of around 2am Tuesday morning, I am stuck trying to find a way to watch these meteors in town.
It’s been near impossible to find a place where I can do this. It seemed like Brandywine Park in Wilmington, Del. was the perfect solution — they actually had a meteor-shower watching event. But when I called to RSVP, I was told the event happened last night. With the cloudy sky, an approximate number of three meteors were seen. Could I go to Clark Park? I hear it’s not very safe at night. What about the Schuylkill River? There’s probably a lot of street lamps that will pollute the view. I called University of Pennsylvania’s Astronomy Dept. and the woman answering the phone laughed off my request for information on where to get some dark sky. I’ve been emailing a few local astronomy clubs — no answer. I tried the Franklin Institute and got put on hold for about 10 minutes waiting for an operator.
Anyone out there willing to help with this quest? Post your suggestions in the comment box below.
All this got me thinking about the problem of wanting a patch of dark sky in the city, and yet also wanting streets and parks to be safely lit. Is there any way to have both?
UPDATE: I just got the following response from Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer from Franklin Institute
We don’t do anything here for Perseid viewing Diana because meteors are so difficult to see under center city skies. Your best bet is to get away from the city lights. Doesn’t really matter where but just away from malls, car dealerships, building complexes, etc. Rural South Jersey is always a good choice. There, tonight (since the peak of the shower is between midnight and sunrise Tuesday morning), if the sky clears, you may be able to count 60 to 80 meteors per hour.
The shower is called Perseid because its meteors all seem to emanate from a point located in the constellation Perseus. This does not mean you should look only in the direction of Perseus, but that if you traced back along the path of a meteor, its origination point would be in Perseus. Let me know if you have more questions about the Perseids.
Photo by Joe Westerberg