Astronomy club ready for Perseids meteor shower

Astronomers welcome public to attend cosmic event at Westwood Lake on Aug. 11.

As far as cosmic wonders go, it doesn’t get more accessible or breathtaking than the upcoming Perseids meteor shower, which is expected to peak Aug. 11.

To celebrate, the Nanaimo Astronomy Club is holding a community outreach program that night to help teach the curious about our night skies and the Perseids in particular.

Garland Coulson, spokesman for the Nanaimo Astronomy Club, said volunteers from the non-profit society will be at Westwood Lake from about 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. to help people view the event and provide information.

“Westwood Lake is an ideal place to watch the Perseids,” said Coulson. “It’s bordered by hills on three sides and it is high up, so light pollution is at a minimum. It’s a perfect vantage point.”

Members of Nanaimo’s Dark Sky Project, a group of citizens interested in protecting the night sky from light pollution, are working in conjunction with the city to have Westwood Lake sanctioned as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association.

If approved, the area would be protected from encroaching light pollution and would allow the astronomy club to perform further outreach programs to educate people about our night sky. It already hosts sky walks, which point out constellations to participants using a laser beam.

Coulson added the meteor shower is also a perfect opportunity for families to reconnect with nature and understand the wonders of the night sky.

“Though meteors are best viewed with the naked eye, we’ll have some telescopes on hand so people can view other aspects of the galaxy,” he said.

According to the astronomy club website, about 10 tons of dust, gravel and big rocks fall from space and strike the earth every day. When the objects enter Earth’s atmosphere, they heat up and glow, leaving a shining trail we call meteors.

“Seeing a meteor blaze across the sky is one of nature’s most amazing sights,” said Coulson.

The Perseids is one of the most prolific meteor showers visible in the northern hemisphere, with an average of 80 meteors visible each hour.

The debris is actually a stream of debris along the orbit of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Most of the dust in the comet’s cloud is estimated at about 1,000 years old, and travels at 58 kilometres per second.

The Earth is passing through the comet’s debris field from July 23 to Aug. 20.

With the moon scheduled to set before 5 p.m. on Aug. 11, if the skies are clear, Coulson said it should be a good year to view the meteors.

“If there are clouds, obviously there’s not much too see and the event is cancelled,” he said. “But usually here in Nanaimo we have very nice nights in August. If it is a clear night, I’d recommend people bring some warm clothing, as it can get chilly quite quickly, and bug repellent.”

For more information on the Perseids event, contact Coulson at Webmaster@NanaimoAstronomy.com or visit http://NanaimoAstronomy.com.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com