Skywatching: Mosquito planes and Meteors

There’s a lot to look up for on Dewees Island today. This morning the familiar yellow plane is swooping over the impoundment and we’re always glad to see that pilot dropping a targeted larval interrupter which keeps the mosquitoes from developing into adults. We are thankful to Charleston County’s Mosquito Abatement Program. After a rather buggy spring, mosquitoes were significantly reduced for most of the summer, which was pretty dry. Over the last few days, the daily storms (which have been gorgeous and given us some much needed rain) have increased breeding grounds for the mosquitoes. Supposedly, the naturally occurring chemical won’t affect frogs, who are also suddenly everywhere with their songs, breeding in the seasonal wetlands the rains bring. The chorus at night is amazing to listen to! And drive carefully in the damp evenings– the frogs are busy hopping from one pond to the other in search of friends. You can see them in the golf cart headlights if you drive slowly.

Tonight, the Perseid meteor showers might put on a great show, if the clouds will cooperate. We’re lucky on the island to be at the end of 60 miles of undeveloped seashore, so there is no light pollution from our north, and while we can see the lights from the ports and soccer fields in the distance, Dewees Island has a pretty dark night sky.

What is a meteor shower?
A meteor shower is a spike in the number of meteors or “shooting stars” that streak through the night sky.

Most meteor showers are spawned by comets. As a comet orbits the Sun it sheds an icy, dusty debris stream along its orbit. If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower. Although the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, if you trace their paths, the meteors in each shower appear to “rain” into the sky from the same region.

Meteor showers are named for the constellation that coincides with this region in the sky, a spot known as the radiant. For instance, the radiant for the Leonid meteor shower is in the constellation Leo. The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall from a point in the constellation Perseus. (http://stardate.org/nightsky/meteors)

 

Perseids can be seen any time after 10 to 11 pm. The best time to look, however, is during the dark hours immediately before dawn. Also, advises Cooke, avoid city lights if possible. Faint meteors are easily lost in the urban glare. A visit to the countryside will typically triple the number of meteors you see.

This year’s display is extra-special because of the planets.  Jupiter, Venus, and the crescent Moon are gathering together just as the Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak.   The alignment occurs in the eastern sky before sunrise on the three mornings of highest meteor activity.

On August 11th, a 33% crescent Moon will glide by Jupiter, temporarily forming a bright pair directly above brilliant Venus. Red-giant star Aldebaran will be there, too, adding a splash of color to the gathering: sky map.  (NASA)

 

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