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Meteor shower to light up night sky

Catch the action at Perseid shower stargazing parties
 Posted: 2:00 AM August 10, 2010

Local astronomer Jessica Vineyard, also known as Ms. Galaxy, said the biggest meteor shower of the year will peak as Wednesday night gives way to the early morning hours of Thursday.

Vineyard will host a free meteor-watching event from 10:30 p.m. Wednesday to about 1 a.m. Thursday in Ashland's North Mountain Park, located near the intersection of North Mountain Avenue and Hersey Street. Look for red lights in a baseball field at the park.

The Swift-Tuttle comet orbits the sun on a different path than that followed by the Earth, but occasionally the orbits cross each other. The comet leaves behind a trail of dust.

"We're passing through this trail of dust," Vineyard explained.

The particles burn up as they hit the Earth's atmosphere, creating streaking lights that are mistakenly called "shooting stars" or "falling stars."

The height of the meteor shower will not actually create a shower of streaking lights, but there will be about 60 visible meteors per hour, or an average of one per minute, Vineyard said.

Though the Perseids (pronounced Purr-see-idz) meteor shower comes from a comet dust trail, an optical illusion makes it appear to be originating from the constellation Perseus in the northern night sky, she said.

Perseus, a character from Greek mythology, was the slayer of Medusa.

In addition to watching the meteor shower, visitors to North Mountain Park can look through telescopes and hear Vineyard speak about constellations, mythology, Jupiter and its moons and other astronomical subjects.

Flashlights are not allowed.

Vineyard recommended that people bring blankets or cots so they can lie flat on their backs and watch the night sky.

A jacket and a Thermos of something warm to drink is also a good idea, she said.

Later in the week, the Southern Oregon Skywatchers astronomy club is hosting free public star parties on Friday and Saturday nights at Joseph Stewart State Park. The park overlooking Lost Creek Reservoir is about 35 miles north of Medford along Highway 62.

Visitors to the weekend star party can hear a pre-dusk lecture at about 8 p.m.

At night, they may catch remnants of the Perseids meteor shower, said Southern Oregon Skywatchers President Colin White.

Members of the astronomy club will have telescopes of different sizes that people can look through to see Jupiter, its moons and other objects in space, White said.

The moon, which is in a small crescent phase this weekend, will set at around 10 p.m., creating good viewing conditions of the night sky, he said.

White said the Southern Oregon Skywatchers' regular star parties have proven popular.

"Families come along and the kids especially enjoy looking through the telescopes. It gets kids interested in science," White said.

As another option for watching the night sky and the Perseids meteor shower, White said Mount Ashland is a good viewing spot.

For more information on Southern Oregon Skywatchers, visit www.orskywatchers.org/.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.


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