Evanston residents can view the annual Perseid Meteor Shower at Lighthouse Beach Saturday night and learn about meteor watching and meteorites at a free talk tonight.

Evanston’s parks department in partnership with the Illinois Science Council, is extending access hours at Lighthouse Beach until midnight on Saturday so people can use the lakefront to look for shooting stars. 

Best viewing of this annual astronomical event is in the night sky in mid-August. In 2012, the Perseids’ peak activity takes place August 11-13 in the evenings through pre-dawn hours.

While stargazing in Chicagoland is hampered by light pollution, our position west of the lake is fortunate. Ideal night sky viewing, aside from driving away from the City, is along the lakefront, facing northeast away from city lights and toward rising stars. The moon phase this year – a late-rising waning crescent – also helps. It will not be too bright to interfere with viewing, provided the sky is clear of clouds.

Illinois Science Council will offer a free educational talk about meteor watching and meteorites at 7 p.m. tonight at the Levy Senior Center 300 Dodge Ave. in Evanston.

Dr. Laura Trouille, astronomer from Northwestern University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astronomy (CIERA) and the Department of Physics and Astronomy, will discuss the Perseid meteor shower and, more generally, night-sky objects of interest.

James Holstein of the Field Museum Department of Geology will discuss meteorites that come through the atmosphere and fall to earth and will bring samples people can view.

The Perseid Meteor Shower phenomenon occurs when the earth’s orbit passes through the cloud of particles ejected from the comet Swift-Tuttle as it travels on its 130-year orbit.

Perseids are so-called because the point from which they appear to come in the sky, called the radiant, lies in the constellation Perseus. This display of “shooting stars” is visible in the night sky for several weeks each year, with peak activity between August 9 and 14. They can be seen all across the sky, but because of the Swift-Tuttle’s orbit path, Perseids are primarily visible in the northern hemisphere.

Illinois Science Council (“ISC”) is an independent, volunteer-driven 501c3 organization that engages, educates, and entertains the adult public about science and technology in our everyday lives. It showcases the scientists and the research of Chicago-area institutions and companies that make Chicago our country’s true “City of Science.”

Top: A NASA false-color time-lapse image of last summer’s Perseid Meteor Shower. Concentric circles are star trails.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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