It’s that time of the year again—Perseids Meteor Shower Viewing Time.
Although there are 30 meteor showers visible from Earth every year, Perseids is the largest and arguably the most famous. This year night sky gazers can expect to see meteors from the Perseids starting on July 17th through until August 24th, with the most meteors being seen at the peak, between August 11th and 13th.
The annual meteor showers in our night sky are caused by the Earth’s orbit intersecting a comet’s orbit. As Earth passes through the debris left behind by a comet, the debris burning up in Earth’s atmosphere forms the meteors (shooting stars) that we see in the night sky.
You may wonder how the Perseids Meteor shower earned its name and the answer is pretty simple. Scientists name meteor showers by the constellation from which the showers appear to fall, in Perseids’ case the constellation of Perseus. There is also a meteor shower called Orionids, named after—you guessed it: Orion!
How do you locate constellations in the night sky? We use star charts, specific to the northern and southern hemispheres. Typically you will find a winter time sky chart and a summer time star chart. Using the star charts star gazers will often use a constellation or asterism to help find other night time features. During the summer months we use The Big Dipper (Ursa Major) as a starting point to help us identify constellations and in the winter we use Orion.
Constellations and Other Formations
Constellations are shapes and forms in the night sky based on the position of the stars.
Did you know that the Big Dipper is actually not a constellation? It is what is known as an asterism, which is a recognizable shape in the night sky. The Big Dipper is apart of the constellation called: Ursa Major.
Not all stars in our night sky are visible at all times throughout the year, but here are a few common ones to keep an eye out for. You can see these stars with your naked eye and even better with a pair of binoculars or a telescope.
Summer Constellations and Other Formations
Ursa Major: Also known as the Big Dipper.
Ursa Minor: Also known as the Little Dipper. Following the last start in the gourd of the Big Dipper will lead the viewer to Polaris (The North Star) the beginning of the handle of the Little Dipper, an asterism of Ursa Minor.
Cassiopeia: Also known as the Queen, people often describe the constellation as a “w”, an “m” or a “crown”. You can located this constellation by using the Big Dipper as a reference point. Count 3 stars in from the start of handle and make a straight line out, past Polaris (North Star) and continue on until you reach an “m” or “w” shaped constellation.
Bootes: Also known as The Herdsman is a kite shaped constellation. To find Bootes remember the saying “Follow the arc to Arcturus” Locate the Big Dipper, use the handle of the Big Dipper as a natural arc and it will lead your eyes to Arcturus. Arcturus is an orange coloured star (although it is a Red Giant) and it makes up the bottom of the "kite" or Bootes.
- Perseus: Using the second and third stars of Cassiopeia, form a line you can follow from the bottom of the "w" until you reach several stars forming a curved pattern. This curve is the constellation Perseus, where the Perseids meteor shower appears to originate from.
Cassiopeia, "w" shaped and Perseus to the left slowly making an appearance in the night sky | © Emilie St. Pierre
Winter Constellations and Other Formations
Orion: Also known as The Hunter. Most people locate Orion by finding the three stars that form Orion’s belt. From Orion’s belt are two stars above and two stars below forming an hourglass shape. Orion has more bright stars than any other constellation, Betelegeuse and Rigel being the most famous.
Pleiades: Also known as the Seven Sisters. Following Orion’s belt to the right a cluster of stars is visible to the naked eye. In ancient times this cluster of stars (not actually a constellation) was a way for night watchman to test their night vision. Most observers only see six stars with their naked eye, however those with good eyesight can see seven, sometimes even more! Often people cannot put their finger on why this cluster of stars looks so familiar. In Japan, this star formation is known by the name Subaru. You may recognize this pattern of stars from the logo of the aptly named Japanese car manufacturer, "Subaru."
The bottom left of the image shows Orion's belt between two trees, right of central tree is the Pleiades | ©Jennifer Diment
Earlier we talked about debris burning up in Earth’s atmosphere forming meteors. There is another phenomenon that occurs in part because of Earth’s atmosphere and this is known as the northern lights (aurora borealis). Check out this blog and infographics to understand how the northern lights are formed.
The northern lights attract a lot of attention and for good reason- the aurora borealis are not limited to a few months during the year and they can be seen alongside constellations and meteor showers. We’ve certainly seen the aurora borealis all year-round in Churchill, but the long, cold nights of the winter typically give a better chance at seeing them, which is why we dedicate trips during the months of February and March solely to northern lights viewing.
© Jessica Burtnick
On our Winter Nights and Northern Lights trips guests will not only experience a variety of daytime activities, but each night they will travel to a new location to witness the dazzling and dancing lights. Including one very special evening, where they cross the frozen Churchill River to tantalize their taste buds with a remote culinary experience under the northern lights.
Whether you are an aurora borealis enthusiast or stargazer who is a soon-to-be aurora borealis enthusiast, the unmatched magic of a trip with Frontiers North Adventures is bound to dazzle and delight.
Header Image © Abby Matheson