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Perseid meteor shower: What to know if you want to watch in BC

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The Perseid meteor shower is a veritable symphony of shooting stars, and an an annual treat for stargazers and skywatchers.

The sky is expected to light up with between 50 to 70 of the bright flashes per hour, as Earth passes through the debris trail of the comet Swift-Tuttle.

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This year’s event is expected to be unusually spectacular, because there will be almost no visible moon in the sky and because Earth will pass directly through the centre of Swift-Tuttle’s dust cloud, said Leigh Cummings, Vancouver Centre president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).


READ MORE:
Here’s how to see and photograph the Perseid meteor shower on Aug. 12-13

Those particles, ranging from dust specks to fragments the size of a pea, will tear into Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of up to 50 kilometres-per-second, burning up and creating a visible light show.

“They’ll be a streak of light that will travel across very quickly, so you’ll see this flash of light going across the sky,” Cummings said.

“A larger one, you might see some colour, you might get some burning of the oxygen and stuff in the air, you’ll get greens and that. And some of the really big ones, you’ll see a bit of a trail after. Those are quite spectacular.”

WATCH: Perseid meteor shower lights up sky






How to watch

Earth is already making its way into the the cloud of debris, but the event is slated to peak between Saturday night and Monday morning.

Aspiring stargazers should find a flat place, away from bright lights or urban centres, one that allows them to see as much of the sky as possible, according to Cummigns.

He said viewers should avoid using telescopes or binoculars, which will limit their field of view.

“Wide open fields are the best. The darker the better, the less light pollution the better, so people that are in the interior or maybe up in Manning Park will get the best views,” said Cummings.

Be patient, stay warm, and keep looking up.


READ MORE:
What you need to know to enjoy the Perseid meteor shower

Cummings said if you can stick it out, the best viewing is between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.

Start by looking towards the northeast, in the direction of the constellation of Perseus earlier in the evening. As Earth rotates, the best field of viewing will move across the sky, Cummings said.

Viewing will also be best in the southern parts of B.C., where the sky stays darker for longer.

WATCH: Best places to view Perseid meteor shower in Metro Vancouver






What about the weather?

Now for the bad news. Stargazers in Metro Vancouver and some parts of the southern interior might not get as good of a show this year because of clouds and possible rain slated to roll in on Saturday and into Sunday.

“Unfortunately, we do have clouds moving in with an area of low pressure, right on time for the meteor shower. This will be the case for much of the southern half of the province,” said Global BC weather reporter Kasia Bodurka.

“We have the possibility of showers and even thundershowers across the south Saturday night.”

Prince Rupert and a number of other northern areas should have clear skies, and parts of the South Okanagan and Boundary regions should see some clear breaks.

As for that wildfire haze?


READ MORE:
Perseid meteor shower: Toronto astronomy professor explains what to expect

“Smoke won’t inhibit the viewing of the meteor shower too significantly this weekend, as it is expected to improve slightly in the interior and in areas that it is thicker, smoke should still be able to shine through,” said Global BC Meteorologist Peter Quinlan.

The worst of the weather is expected to clear up Sunday and into Monday, which is good news according to Cummings.

He said “Zulu Hour,” the absolute peak of the event, is slated for the earliest hours of Monday morning.

“If you’re not a working person on Monday morning, you could stay up Sunday night into the wee hours of the morning and catch just as good, maybe even a better view,” he said.

“Especially if it’s after a rain storm, the sky will be a lot clearer, the air will be clearer.”

WATCH: Perseid meteor shower lights up sky around the world






Star parties

If you’re looking to take the show in with a crowd, there are several events scheduled around B.C. on Saturday and a few into Sunday and Monday.

On Friday night, Simon Fraser University’s Trottier observatory hosts its regular Starry Nights sky-watching event.

On Saturday, the RASC is participating in a special Perseid viewing event at Aldergrove Regional Park from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., which includes guest speakers. The event will permit a rare chance for overnight camping in the park. There is a $2 fee to help cover the cost of portable toilets.

The Regional District of Central Okanagan is also hosting a free meteor shower event from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Kopje Regional Park on Okanagan Lake near Kelowna.

There’s another Okanagan event at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Kaladen from 7:15 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

On the Sunshine Coast, there is an Astronomy in the Park event at the Porpoise Bay Provincial Park.

On Vancouver Island, you can head to the Island Star Party in Duncan from Aug. 10 to 12.

The RASC is also hosting an open house at the observatory in Prince George on Sunday Aug. 12 from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m.

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Astronaut's Photo Captures Summer Sunrise over the Gulf of St. Lawrence

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A lucky astronaut aboard the International Space Station captured this image of the sun reflecting off the Gulf of St. Lawrence between the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador in Canada. 

They were lucky because clouds are so common in the area, NASA says, images of the region are not often acquired from the space station. But on this day, there was a break between two cloud banks just as the sun was rising about 4:40 a.m. 

This image of the sun reflecting off the Gulf of St. Lawrence between the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador was made by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on July 5, 2018.

(NASA’s Earth Observatory)

At the time the photo was made on July 5, the space station was over Massachusetts, more than a thousand miles southwest of the sun's reflection point.

The astronaut, a member of the Expedition 56 crew, was using a Nikon D4 digital camera with a 145 mm lens. 

This labeled version gives you a better idea of what you're seeing:

This island of Newfoundland is on the right and mainland Labrador on the left with Quebec further inland. The photo was made by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on July 5, 2018.

(NASA’s Earth Observatory)

 

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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'A planet of clouds': Astronaut aboard the ISS captures stunning image of Earth blanketed in white

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‘A planet of clouds’: Astronaut aboard the ISS captures stunning image of Earth blanketed in white

  • Astronaut Alexander Gerst captured the stunning photo this weekend from the International Space Station
  • The astronaut shared the image on Twitter this past Saturday, writing : ‘Wolkenplanet – A planet of clouds’
  • Through the window of the ISS, the curved horizon of Earth is seen as the planet appears covered in clouds

It’s a scene reminiscent of theories on ‘Snowball Earth’; a vast blanket of white that appears to stretch across the entire globe, completely blotting out the surface.

The breathtaking image captured by astronaut Alexander Gerst this weekend shows our planet swathed in clouds, with barely a hint of blue peeking through the cracks.

Gerst attained the unique perspective from 250 miles above the surface, aboard the orbiting International Space Station.

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A breathtaking image captured by astronaut Alexander Gerst this weekend shows our planet swathed in clouds, with barely a hint of blue peeking through the cracks. The astronaut shared the image on Twitter this past Saturday, writing simply: ‘Wolkenplanet – A planet of clouds’

A breathtaking image captured by astronaut Alexander Gerst this weekend shows our planet swathed in clouds, with barely a hint of blue peeking through the cracks. The astronaut shared the image on Twitter this past Saturday, writing simply: ‘Wolkenplanet – A planet of clouds’

The stunning photo offers a glimpse into the views seen only by the astronauts on the ISS.

Through the window, the curved horizon of our planet is seen in clear view – along with a few gadgets attached to the space station itself.

The astronaut shared the image on Twitter this past Saturday, writing simply: ‘Wolkenplanet – A planet of clouds.’

Gerst is currently leading the Horizons mission on the ISS, in his second stint at the orbiting lab.

He previously shared a stunning timelapse of what it’s like to fly over Earth at speeds unimaginable to the average person.

The video shows an incredible view of the trip over Alaska to the Andes in 260 seconds.

The crews aboard the space station frequently share updates on their life hundreds of miles above the surface, showing what it’s like to live and work in orbit for months on end.

In the past, they’ve revealed stunning views of everything from auroras to moon-sets.

WHAT IS THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION?

The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000.

The space station is currently home to two Russians, three Americans and one Japanese. 

Research conducted aboard the ISS often requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.

The International Space Station (file photo) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth

The International Space Station (file photo) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth

The International Space Station (file photo) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth

ISS studies have investigated human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.

The US space agency, Nasa, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, a level of funding that is endorsed by the Trump administration and Congress.

A U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees Nasa has begun looking at whether to extend the program beyond 2024.

Alternatively the money could be used to speed up planned human space initiatives to the moon and Mars.

Earlier this month, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev released a video of the narrow tunnels astronauts must traverse to navigate the ISS.

And, it’s not an environment for those put off by small spaces.

The video showed a brief trip through the longest route on the ISS, passing through the main section where the astronauts spend most of their time, to the cafeteria, the Russian section, and the storage and service modules.

The $100 billion orbiting lab is currently home to a crew of six, including geophysicist and volcanologist Gerst.

 

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Richmond Hill wants you to visit Canada's largest telescope

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Randy Attwood remembers visiting the David Dunlap Observatory for the first time as an eight-year-old boy and feeling awestruck as he looked up at the towering 1.88-metre reflector telescope.

He never imagined that more than 40 years later he would deliver lectures about astronomy at the Richmond Hill, Ont., observatory as the executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

"When you walk in for the first time into the observatory, you see this massive telescope," said Attwood. "It's overwhelming for an eight-year-old that's for sure…I'm overwhelmed every time I go in there now as an adult. It's an impressive thing to look at."

This summer the observatory, which contains the largest telescope in Canada, reopened to the public after 10 years.

The town of Richmond Hill, which owns the observatory and about half the surrounding property, is for the first time looking to raise awareness of the site and reach the community through programming, said Maggie MacKenzie, the town's heritage centre co-ordinator.

'A gorgeous place'

About a 45 minute drive north from downtown Toronto, visitors can every Saturday see the 1.88-metre telescope being operated, star gaze with telescopes set up on the lawn around the observatory, and listen to a guest speaker give an astronomy talk.

Once a month on Sundays, tours of the observatory and administration building provide more information about the site's history. A space camp for kids also runs this summer during the week.

The Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill on Saturday. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Since the University of Toronto sold the property in 2008, there has been years of litigation over its ownership and how it should be maintained, said Ian Shelton, chair of the David Dunlap Observatory Defenders, a group that formed in late 2007 to protect the property and advocate for its upkeep.

"It's a gorgeous place. It's a best-kept secret. People should certainly come visit it," said Shelton, who runs programs out of the observatory and teaches astronomy at the University of Toronto.

"It's a very, very nice place to visit based in terms of its esthetic, but what it represents in terms of Canadian history is just even more spectacular."

I couldn't think of a better way to spend an evening.– Randy Attwood, executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

The observatory's 61-foot dome weighs 80 tonnes and was built in England and transported by ship to Canada in 1933, said MacKenzie. The telescope was the second largest in the world when the observatory officially opened in 1935.

The property was designated a historic site in 2009 and most of the observatory and administration building is in its original state. The telescope is still functional and hundreds of photographs of planets and constellations are still held in the radio astronomy room.

Olivia Lang looks at a diagram of constellations during a family night at the Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill on Saturday. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

David Alexander Dunlap was an avid astronomer, philanthropist and founding partner of the Hollinger gold mines. After he died in 1924, his wife, Jessie Donalda Dunlap, donated the property to the University of Toronto as a memorial for her husband. The observatory was then at the forefront of Canadian astronomical research through the university.

"There were a number of prominent astronomers that made this place their home," said MacKenzie.

Helen Sawyer Hogg, one of few female astronomers at the time, started researching in the observatory in the 1930s. She photographed over 2,000 stars, published more than 200 papers and wrote a column for the Toronto Star from the 1950s to the 1980s through her work at the observatory.

Light pollution a 'major problem'

Dr. Charles Thomas Bolton was a postdoctoral researcher at the observatory in 1970, and two years later through his research he discovered a black hole.

"But at this time light pollution started to become a problem," said MacKenzie.

She said around the 1970s, as Richmond Hill's population grew and the surrounding areas developed, light pollution became more of an issue, and the astronomers had to adapt their research methods.

People take turns looking at the moon through a telescope on the grounds of the Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

For instance, when Dr. Donald Alexander MacRae was the director of the observatory and chair of the university's astronomy department from the 1960s to 1978, he established a radio astronomy program that used a 24-inch telescope in Chile said MacKenzie. She said because of the light pollution, some research would be conducted in Chile and communicated to astronomers at the Dunlap observatory

But despite the efforts, astronomers realized that the telescope wasn't as useful and soon after the observatory was no longer used for research, said Attwood.

"Light pollution is a major problem and it has been for a long time. Light pollution is a real challenge," Attwood said. "It ruins the night sky for people. Very few people have seen a totally dark sky."

Even though the observatory is no longer used for astronomical research, Attwood said the site has always been "a central focus for education and outreach" as the community continually comes by the observatory to look up at the night sky during the summer.

"I couldn't think of a better way to spend an evening."

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