Planetarium operator, John Moran, was up bright and early the other day for the Perseids meteor shower (rather him than me...)
As is always the way when I look forward to annual meteor showers, especially the major ones like the Perseids, I was beaten by the broken cloud, which gives you the added frustration of being able to see parts of the sky in between and consequently gives you false hope. This was how I spent the early hours of 13 August in Newsham Park, Liverpool. Fortunately others I've spoken to had better luck than I did. One of our regular visiters to the Planetarium described how she had set her alarm clock for 3am and had trudged off to the nearby woods with her grandfather, and spotted at least 10 meteors, which is deserved reward for the commitment and patience shown by a 12 year old just discovering the wonders of our night sky. The passion and excitment in her eyes was a joy to see as she described how, "one meteor streak went on for ever" and how another, "broke apart mid-flight". This kind of feedback from someone so young is, in my opinion, one of the biggest rewards of being a Planetarium operator.
Another successful night of 'Perseid hunting' was achieved by our own Tony Morgan of the Natural History Centre, who along with Wendy Simkiss from Geology and a few friends, organised a star party. As a way of keeping everyone keen and focused, Wendy not only supplied binoculars and star maps, but also created a clever little test where everyone had to find 16 selected objects in the night sky. This is such a brilliant way of not only keeping interests peaked, but also an opportunity for friends who may not be as familiar with the celestial sky. Another reason why star parties are a great idea is because unfortunately the sky does not always do as predicted, so if you end up disappointed because of clouds at least you are among friends and can still have good time.
I always try to imagine what it would be like to witness a meteor shower from the middle of the sea or even a desert, because being a city dweller makes it much more difficult to view events like meteor showers because of light pollution - the enemy of all star gazers. I often speak to retired seamen who are not necessarily familiar with the constellations but talk about how unbelievable the stars were at sea, and how the sighting of shooting stars became commonplace. I can't help but feel a tinge of envy. Of course you don't always need an annual meteor shower to be able to spot meteors, because on any given night of the year there are millions of tons of space debris entering our atmosphere, most the size of a grain of sand. The great thing about annual showers is that you can get prepared for them. The best way to do this is by getting yourself a meteor shower chart (see below) which lets you know what date meteor showers start and finish.