The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaked earlier today. However I was able to catch a better showing from Mayhill NM on the morning of the 11th, yesterday. While the Moon is waxing and near full, it fortuitously set just before 4 am and the dark skies over the Sacramento Mountains followed! The Earth passes through the debris trail left by comet Swift-Tuttle every year at this time. The direction of travel is toward the constellation Perseus, hence the name. The meteors appear to originate from a central point in that constellation. Just after 4 am on the 11th Perseus was nearly overhead, so most of the meteors were seen closer to the horizon. I saw approximately 20 in the hour before dawn! Now the other phenomenon featured at the same time was a triangular glow of light originating from about the position of sunrise. This can be seen in a dark site either just before dawn or just after sunset. Zodiacal light (also called false dawn when seen before sunrise such as this) is visible in the night sky and appears to extend from the Sun’s direction and along the zodiac, straddling the ecliptic or the plane of the solar system (red line in image below). Sunlight scattered by interplanetary dust causes this phenomenon. Zodiacal light is best seen during twilight after sunset in spring and before sunrise in autumn, when the zodiac is at a steep angle to the horizon. You can see in the Stellarium capture below the steep ecliptic angle and the constellations of the zodiac beginning with Gemini. At any rate, a welcome moment of visual observing from the astronomer’s living quarters at Orion’s Belt on the morning of August 11th!
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