Tonight: Stay up late, look up | AspenTimes.com

Tonight: Stay up late, look up

Janet Urquhart

If you don’t have camping plans this weekend, you might want to make some.And cross your fingers for clear skies after midnight.Tonight should be the best night to stretch out in a sleeping bag on the ground and take in the Perseid meteor shower, an annual celestial event.The nighttime light show will be best after midnight and better in the mountains than on the Front Range, according to Doug Duncan, director of the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium and Sommers-Bausch Observatory.”It ought to be pretty dark once you get out of the town of Aspen,” he said. “If the sky is clear, you could expect to see 50 or 60 [meteors] an hour.”During that same hour, someone in Boulder might see 10 and someone in downtown Denver only one or two, or even none,” he added.Duncan advises getting out of even a mountain town, though, and away from city lights. Even on the edge of Aspen, what can be seen of the meteor shower will be cut by a third.Since the moon happens to be in its first quarter, its light shouldn’t detract from the display of shooting stars.”I try to schedule my camping trips to include one at this time of year,” Duncan said.Those looking for a place to watch might want to head for the Windstar Land Conservancy in Old Snowmass; the Wilderness Workshop will host a free Stars & Shots meteor shower slumber party from dusk Friday until the following morning.The best time to view the meteors is after midnight, because before midnight Colorado is on the side of the Earth that faces directly away from the sun, according to Duncan.”But after midnight, the Earth turns us to be facing forward in our orbit around the sun,” he said. “Just like a car hits more bugs on the front windshield than on the rear, the front of the Earth hits more meteors.”The Perseid meteor shower, one of the most dependable, is caused by the Earth passing through the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which is in orbit around the sun. The chunks of space junk (ice and dust) that make up the tail are seen as meteors only when they get caught in Earth’s gravity and burn up in the atmosphere, Duncan said.The Perseid shower is named for the Perseus constellation from which the meteors, or shooting stars, appear to radiate.But don’t worry about facing any particular direction or being able to recognize Perseus – there will be meteors all over the sky, Duncan said.While the peak of the shower is expected tonight after midnight, stretching into the wee hours of Saturday morning, there should still be shooting stars on Saturday and Sunday nights, as well, he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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