The Backyard Astronomer on enjoying this week’s night sky and meteor shower

OTTAWA – Gary Boyle was struck by the stars from an early age.

“Living on the top floor of a triplex in Verdun, a suburb of Montreal, the night sky was my theater.

At the age of eight, he learned about the constellations by looking at the flyer of a monthly astronomy magazine.

“I bought my first telescope in 1968 and I never stopped. For the past 56 years, I have been in touch with the night sky and all it has to offer.

Boyle is so passionate about sharing his love of astronomy with others that the International Astronomical Union honored the resident of South Mountain, Ontario, by naming the asteroid (22406) “Garyboyle”.

The astronomy educator, guest speaker and monthly columnist for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada who goes by the nickname “The Backyard Astronomer” has enjoyed seeing telescope sales soar during the pandemic.

He says you don’t have to invest thousands to become an astronomer.

This week is the peak of the celestial spectacle known as the Perseid meteor shower.

“In the last few weeks you have probably noticed a few meteors or ‘shooting stars’ at night. You’re seeing one of the best meteor showers of the year, ”Boyle says enthusiastically.

The Perseid meteor shower began on July 14 and will last until August 24, but this week is “the week” to make countless wishes to these many stars.

“The best time to see 50 to 60 meteors per hour will be on the night of August 11 and through the morning of the 12,” Boyle explains.

The backyard astronomer says the night of the 13th should also be showy.

“This year, the crescent moon sets a few hours after sunset, leaving us with a dark sky. In contrast, next year’s Perseids are set under a full moon, which dramatically lowers the hourly rate, ”Boyle explains.

The Perseid Shower is an annual event.

Boyle explains, “As Earth passes through the dusty debris of comet Swift-Tuttle, which last circled the sun in 1992, in its 133-year orbit, as the comet nears the sun, the radiation solar makes the comet shine.

“When we encounter the debris, the particles hit the atmosphere at 59 km / second and burn off completely. Large, pea-sized particles will create fireballs that can light up the ground.

Night sky photo

Boyle says viewing is best in the countryside, away from any light source.

Along with the Perseids, Boyle says, prepare for the beauty of the Milky Way.

“Our galaxy has around 300 billion stars. Use a grain of regular table salt to represent a star. You will need to fill a sandbox 20 feet by 20 feet, one foot high to match that number of stars. There are approximately two trillion stars in the observable universe.

Night sky photo

The backyard astronomer’s advice for stargazing:

“With today’s technology, many astronomy apps for smartphones can show the constellations and positions of planets and other celestial objects,” Boyle explains.

1) Start with the Big Dipper and learn from those around it. Then use Cygnus the Swan and Orion the Hunter as a central starting point.

2) Buy a pair of binoculars (especially with children) to start locating the position of the brightest star clusters and double stars.

3) If you are then ready to buy a telescope, avoid big box stores. There are inexpensive telescopes with poor optics and wobbly mounts. It tends to discourage people from continuing. Shop online from reputable telescope dealers across Canada. Write to me and I can offer suggestions. If you buy a telescope for $ 200, it will stay in the garage. $ 500 is the starting range.

4) Contact your nearest astronomy club or center. Here in town we have the Ottawa Center of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – link on my website.

5) Have fun and be patient. Astronomy won’t come overnight (forgive the pun). There is a lot to learn and memorize, but it is a fascinating hobby / science.

Night sky photo

As technology has changed, making understanding the cosmos so much more accessible, Gary Boyle is nostalgic for his first introduction.

“Back in 1965 with an elementary school library book titled ‘STARS’. It was one of some seventy subjects in the How and Why Wonders series of books. “

This might just be an interesting find at a yard sale, although probably a lot harder than seeing a shooting star this week.

About Johnnie Gross

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