Perseids Meteor Shower, Albireo, Dumbell Nebula
Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseid meteor shower is the dusty remnants of the comet Swift-Tuttle and widely viewed as one of the most spectacular and exciting meteor showers of the year with as many as 60-70 meteors per hour. In outburst years up to 200 meteors per hour!
This year’s shower promises to be a good one. With the Moon a waxing crescent, it will set long before the constellation Perseus rises over the north-eastern horizon at around midnight. This leaves you plenty of time to observe the meteors without the Moon brightening the sky and drowning out the fainter shooting stars.
We recommend you start late evening on the 11th, and continue to the early hours of the 12th. The key to observing the meteor shower is darkness. The farther you can get from light pollution the better your eyes will be able to absorb light. Let your eyes adjust to darkness for 30 minutes. Dress warmly. Bring a reclining chair, or spread a thick blanket over a flat spot of ground. Lie down and look up somewhat toward the Northeast. Meteors can appear in any part of the sky, although their trails will tend to point back toward the radiant Perseus.
Albireo, also known as Beta Cygni, at first glance doesn’t particularly stand out. But viewing this star through a small telescope it resolves into a striking double, with one component a gold star and the other a sapphire blue close by. Although the two stars appear close in the sky, from our perspective, astronomers still don’t know for sure if they’re gravitationally bound to each other. It doesn’t matter. The color contrast between the two is so striking and so beautiful that Albireo is one of the sky’s most beloved stars.
How can you spot Albireo in the night sky? It’s easy to find, if you can locate Cygnus the Swan. Cygnus has an easy-to-recognize shape, that of a cross, and the constellation is also known as the Northern Cross. The brightest star in Cygnus, called Deneb, marks the head of the Cross or the Tail of the Swan. Albireo marks the base of the Cross or the Head of Cygnus. They’re best viewed at 30X (“30 power” or a magnification of 30). Unless you have exceedingly powerful binoculars, mounted on a tripod, binoculars won’t show you Albireo as two stars. But any small telescope will. When you do see Albireo as two stars, be sure to notice the striking color contrast between the two.
M27 - The Dumbell Nebula
Messier 27 is the second brightest planetary nebula in the sky, second only to the Helix Nebula in Aquarius, and probably the easiest one to observe because it has a higher surface brightness than the Helix and is therefore easier to find.
Planetary nebulae are what our Sun will produce when it nears the end of its life and nuclear fusion stops in its core. These nebulae are formed when evolved giant stars eject their outer envelopes, exposing the hot core of the star, which then ionizes the surrounding cloud of expelled material with ultraviolet light. The clouds keep expanding until they dissipate into the surrounding space. Charles Messier found it on July 12, 1764 and described it as a “nebula without star.”
Visually, the Dumbbell Nebula appears white even in larger telescopes, but its two-lobed shape is clear. The nebula’s details can be revealed by colour astrophotography.