Tips# For Night Sky Viewing

About moonlight. The moon may or may not pose serious interference. Please check moon almanac for rising and setting timings & phases of moon. Ideally moonless nights are best and dates closer to it.

About dark sky. Here’s the first thing – or the main thing – you need to know to become as proficient as the experts at star gazing or watching the meteors, you need a dark sky. It’s possible to catch a meteor or two or even more from the suburbs. But, to experience a true meteor shower (see several each minute) or readily identify stars and constellations – avoid city lights.

Know your dates and times. For meteors, you also need to be looking on the right date, at the right time of night. Meteor showers occur over a range of dates, because they stem from Earth’s own movement through space. As we orbit the sun, we cross “meteor streams.” These streams of icy particles in space come from comets moving in orbit around the sun. Comets are fragile icy bodies that litter their orbits with debris. When this cometary debris enters our atmosphere, it vaporizes due to friction with the air. If moonlight or city lights don’t obscure the view, we on Earth see the falling, vaporizing particles as meteors. The Perseids take place between about 23rd July to 20th August. They peak on the night of 12th August in 2017, but you might catch Perseids meteors on the nights around that date as well.

Where to go to watch a meteor shower. You can comfortably watch meteors from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: a rural back yard or a ship’s deck, the hood of your car, the side of a road on the city outskirts. Farm houses, hill stations and national parks are good bets, but be sure they have a wide open viewing area, like a field; you don’t want to be stuck in the midst of a forest on meteor night.

What to bring with you. You don’t need special equipment to star gaze (identify common stars & constellations) or watch a meteor shower. If you want to bring along equipment to make yourself more comfortable, consider a blanket or carpet to lie down or reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, binoculars for gazing at the stars but for the meteors itself watch them with the naked eyes. Be sure to dress warmly enough, especially in the hours before dawn. Binoculars are fun to have, too. You won’t need them for watching the meteor shower.

Are the predictions reliable? For Meteor showers, Although astronomers have tried to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain notoriously unpredictable. Your best bet is to go outside at the times we suggest, and plan to spend at least an hour, if not a whole night, reclining or sleeping comfortably while looking up at the sky. Also remember that meteor showers typically don’t just happen on one night. They span a range of dates. So the morning before or after a shower’s peak might be good, too.

Remember … star gazing and meteor showers are like fishing. You go, you enjoy nature and nature and…at times monsoon gods have their own plans and sometimes you catch something.

by Capt. Preetham Madhukar

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