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Meteor shower offers nighttime viewing

Monday, August 12, 2002

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Better set the alarm clock. The best time to view the Perseids meteor show is Tuesday morning before dawn.

The annual show has stargazers, librarians and insomniacs busy getting ready for what Michael Malolepszy, vice president of the St. Louis Astronomical Society, describes as "nature's fireworks."

"You heart jumps a bit when you see a flash of light," Malolepszy said.

There is plenty of light to see, too. The Earth is careening into the dust cloud left behind by the Swift-Tuttle comet. This causes the annual Perseid meteor sky show every August.

"We run headlong into this cloud of dusty debris," said Terry Dwyer, a technical assistant at the St. Louis Science Center's James S. McDonnell Planetarium.

Dwyer said the tiny bits of dust strike the Earth's atmosphere at about 132,000 miles an hour. The result leaves luminous trails of light in their wake.

The meteor shower begins around 10:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. However, Malolepszy said the best viewing will be before dawn Tuesday when the meteor shower hits its peak.

Anyone can see the Perseids, without binoculars or telescopes, Malolepszy said. What is needed is a good, clear weather and dark skies to see the meteors in all their glory.

Since it might be chilly during the night, Malolepszy advised stargazers to dress warmly and take a blanket along. In addition, mosquito repellent might be a good idea.

A crescent moon will make for low natural light pollution.

According to legend, the Perseids also have been called the fiery tears of St. Lawrence. The feast of St. Lawrence, patron saint of librarians and libraries, coincides with the Perseid meteor shower.


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