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How to view a Catholic meteor shower this weekend!

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
August 10th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

You want to go to Saturday evening mass this weekend, if you can, because you will be awake all night Saturday, after you attend a genuine Catholic meteor shower. Yes, you read correctly, a Catholic meteor shower. Known to the faithful, as the tears of St. Lawrence, meteors will rain from the sky in great numbers in the early Sunday AM creating an opportunity to enjoy an impressive natural phenomenon while sharing a tidbit of your faith. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - St. Lawrence was entrusted with the Holy Grail, among other precious artifacts, in the 3rd century AD. When St. Lawrence was ordered by the Prefect of Rome to deliver up the riches of the Church, he defied the order by distributing the wealth to the poor. St. Lawrence then presented a group of impoverished, sick, and crippled people to the Prefect, declaring them the true riches of the Church. His noble act of defiance earned him martyrdom. According to legend, Lawrence was grilled to death. 

His last words were, "Turn me over, I am done on this side." 

Since the Perseid meteor shower peaks on his feast day, August 10, or thereabouts, they have earned the nickname, "the tears of St. Lawrence." 

Despite their association, the Perseids have a heavenly origin of their own. These shooting stars are actually pieces of comet Swift-Tuttle, which swings by the Earth every 133 years, leaving a trail of dust behind it. Interestingly, the comet's orbit passes very close to that of Earth, and there have been concerns that it may someday collide with the planet. However, calculations reveal that we have nothing to worry about until at least 4479 AD, when the comet will have an outside chance of actually striking the planet. 

In the meantime, astronomers expect it will continue putting on a great display for us. It's next return in 2126 is expected to be visible to the naked eye, and it's showers will likely remain reliable for viewers in the centuries to come. 

Sky watchers will note that the Perseid meteor shower has already begun, with observers noting large, bright meteors with long trails, for the past week or more. These sightings will increase through the weekend, culminating on Saturday night, through early Sunday morning.  

The rate of the shower is quite reliable with observers seeing as many as 60 per hour under dark-sky conditions. Northern hemisphere observers typically see more of the meteors than those in the southern hemisphere, owing to the orientation of the comet's orbit. 

How to view the shower: 

Make sure you have warm clothing or blankets on hand. Hot chocolate and snacks are nice to have. Make your way to a dark-sky location. Mountains make for great observing sites, but anyplace far away from city lights will do. You should be easily able to see the Milky Way, which is actually an arm of the galaxy, after nightfall. If you can see the Milky Way and many more stars than usual, then you are in a decent location. A clear horizon is a plus, and will ensure you see more meteors, but it isn't as important as a dark sky. 

There is no particular place to look in the sky, as the meteors can appear anywhere, from directly overhead, to near the horizon. You do not need binoculars or a telescope either. All you need to do is pick a comfortable spot and look up. Your neck will grow tired after several minutes, so lying on your back, or having good support helps.

Start viewing after midnight. Although shooting stars will be visible as early as dusk, the highest rates will be visible after midnight owing to the orientation of the Earth relative to the stream. After midnight, your location on Earth is actually turning towards the stream, meaning many more shooting stars to see. If you don't want to stay up waiting, set an alarm and nap until midnight. 

The moon will rise between 1 and 2 AM, and will wash out some of the fainter meteors. No worries, the moon is less bright than it has been in prior years. 

Most meteors are no larger than a grain of sand, but they can be as large as a pea, or even a small softball. The Perseids strike the Earth at 132,000 miles per second, disintegrating about 60 miles above you. 

And if for some reason, you cannot leave the city lights behind, all is not lost. Find a spot with as little direct light as possible and look up. You're bound to see at least a few per hour, even from the big city. 

So set your alarm and bundle up, and enjoy this very Catholic meteor shower!

 

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