All-natural fireworks in Pittsburgh sky this weekend

The best time to view the Perseid meteor shower will be from 1 to 5 a.m. Monday

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

Pittsburghers love their firework displays. But this weekend a different type of firework will light up the night sky -- that of mother nature.

Known as the annual "shooting stars of summer," meteors will shower the night sky, peaking as high as 70 per hour. The best time for Pittsburghers to catch a glimpse of nature's fireworks will be between 1 and 5 a.m. Monday.

"We are going to miss out on some of the best stuff," said Tom Reiland, director of the Nicholas E. Wagman Observatory. "Our best bet is to go in the early-morning hours." He added that Monday morning will be slightly better than Tuesday morning because the meteors will still be in an upswing.

The Perseid meteor shower is caused by particles of debris, such as dust, that the Comet Swift-Tuttle leaves behind. When the Earth spins through this trail of debris once a year, the particles "burn up" because of the friction with Earth's air, causing the light display. The meteors hit the atmosphere at 132,000 miles per hour.

"The comets are snowy dirt balls," said Diane Turnshek, astronomy faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. "It takes days for the Earth to come through it since there is a wide trail left behind."

According to the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, the skies are supposed to be clear Sunday night with some possible high, thin clouds. With a few days left before the first quarter of the new moon, the skies will be dark, which is best for viewing.

However, Pittsburghers haven't been very lucky with clear weather in recent years -- the skies have been overcast and rainy, ruining the peak night, according to James Watt, founder of Pittsburgh Space Weather.

"Even the thinnest layer of clouds would totally skew the view," Mr. Watt said, adding that this will be the first year he will be able to share the meteor shower with his children.

Like many stargazers, Mr. Watt will travel an hour outside of Pittsburgh to Butler County's Moraine State Park. According to NASA's Fluxtimator, a site that tracks expected visible meteors per hour, almost 10 times as many meteors will be visible per hour in the countryside than Downtown.

"To really appreciate the shower, you have to go where the sky is dark," said Dan Malerbo, Buhl Planetarium program development coordinator.

"By staying in Pittsburgh, you won't see as many as if you go to Butler or Washington county."

According to Ms. Turnshek, the darkest place in the state to best watch the shower is Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County, about four hours from Pittsburgh.

Located about 30 minutes from Pittsburgh, Wagman Observatory in Deer Lakes Regional Park will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights for the meteor shower watching.

Binoculars and telescopes won't be necessary to see what many argue is the most reliable and best meteor shower with the warmest weather.

"You don't even need to focus on anything. Just look up," Ms. Turnshek said.

Meteor showers such as the Perseid remind people that Earth exists in space, according to James Garvin, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center chief scientist.

"There's science. There's beauty. There's excitement of seeing Earth in action with our eyeballs," he said. "In some sense, it reminds us that we live in space and that's what it is all about. It encounters us and we encounter it. The universe is an interesting place, and this brings it close to home."

Correction, August 11, 2013: Diane Turnshek was misquoted in an earlier version of this article.

region - science

Claire Aronson:, 412-263-1964 or on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?