The month of August 2017 offers two amazing opportunities to observe the sky and organize group activities related to astronomy. These celestial shows are free and accessible to everyone – there’s no excuse not to enjoy them! Here is some information to help you plan your observation activities.
The Perseids - August 10 to 14, 2017
Every year, the Earth passes through a dusty region of its orbit during the second week of August. This small cosmic debris, leftovers from the comet Swift-Tuttle, enter our atmosphere and create magnificent shooting stars; and this year you can witness the Perseid meteor shower on August 12!
The Perseids last a few nights and the chances of seeing shooting stars are very good from August 10-14. This year, the maximum intensity will be the night of August 12 and 13, which is the weekend, making it easier to stay up late! Obviously the sky must be clear in order to observe the meteor shower, so consider having a backup plan if you’re organizing a group.
Observing the Perseids with is very easy. Lying on your back will give you the best vantage point of the night sky. Bring a reclining chair and blankets. Since the view is better with the naked eye, no instrument (such as a telescope) is necessary. To maximize your chances of seeing the faintest shooting stars, find a place away from city lights, avoid looking into lights and allow time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, and let nature take care of the rest!
Partial Solar Eclipse - August 21 2017
The event of the year for amateur astronomers is the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Most enthusiasts will cross the border to the United States to observe the total eclipse — often called the nature’s greatest show! For those of you staying in Canada, the view may be less spectacular but it’s definitely a special event worth watching.
The partial eclipse will be visible all across Canada. The luckiest will be those on the West Coast who will see the Sun 90% hidden by the Moon. In Eastern Canada, this fraction will be around 50% whereas in Northern Canada, the Moon will cover only 20% of the Sun. For the most part, the eclipse takes place in the middle of the day and therefore it’s easy to observe with children in day camps or visitors to parks, museums and science centres. Regardless of your audience, this event is a good opportunity to observe it if the sky is clear and to organize science activities explaining solar eclipses.
The most important aspect of solar eclipse observation is health safety. Make sure everyone can watch the eclipse safely by protecting their eyes. The easiest way is to use eclipse glasses or to project the image of the Sun. Although a telescope will make it possible to magnify the image of the Sun, it’s not necessary to view the eclipse and does require special safety equipment (adequate solar filter). If you want a pair of eclipse glasses, make sure you get them from reliable sources such as telescope or science stores, planetariums, science centres or amateur astronomer clubs such as the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
For more information on the eclipse, how to observe it and activity ideas, visit http://www.discovertheuniverse.ca/solareclipse2017/
Hoping you have beautiful clear skies to observe these two fantastic shows of nature!