Comets, shuttles and planets crossing the Northern Nevada sky | NevadaAppeal.com
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Comets, shuttles and planets crossing the Northern Nevada sky

by Sharlene Irete
Nevada Appeal News Service

The Perseid meteor shower is the showboat event in the sky this week, peaking today, but don’t forget to look up for the space shuttle, Mars and other heavenly bodies.

What a treat that one of the showiest meteor showers of the year happens in the summer, when it’s not all that inconvenient to view shooting stars in pajamas in your own backyard.

About one or two meteors per minute can be viewed during the peak of the Perseid shower. A dark moon helps with viewing this year but the best places to watch will be away from city lights.

According to information from StarDate, a public education service of the McDonald Observatory at University of Texas, Austin, meteor showers are made of the debris shed by comets as they orbit the sun.

The icy, dusty debris stream is seen as a meteor shower as the Earth travels through it.

The Perseid shower is named because meteors appear to fall from the direction of the constellation Perseus, which rises around 11 p.m. in the northeast sky.

The source of the Perseid meteor shower is the vaporized particles of the Swift-Tuttle comet. The comet’s tail intersects our planet’s orbit and Earth glides through the comet dust every August.

Most of the particles are no bigger than BBs, but a few larger ones create especially brilliant meteors as they hit the Earth’s atmosphere traveling 132,000 mph.

Many of the meteors will fly by the planet Mars, which appears as a red, twinkling star visible in the eastern sky.

The search for manmade satellites as they travel in their orbits around Earth will be made easier with the lack of a moon the next few nights.

The NASA Web site provides a skywatch log to help people find the Space Shuttle Endeavour that was launched Wednesday.

According to the NASA skylog, in the area of ZIP code 89410, Endeavour may be viewed at 22:05 for one minute on Aug. 13 at 10 degrees above north – that’s 10:05 p.m. Monday.

Douglas High School astronomy teacher Jim Mathews said that means Endeavour will be moving along a little above the horizon. He gave advice on how to spot satellites with a technique that also works for viewing meteors.

“When you’re looking for Endeavour or other satellites, look out of the corner of your eye,” Mathews said. “The light receptors are best out of the sides of your eyes – better than in the middle.”

Once in an observing spot, position yourself so the horizon appears at the edge of your peripheral vision, with the stars and sky filling your field of view. Moving objects have a better chance of grabbing your attention as they go by.