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LI stargazers gear up for Perseid meteors

Astronomers observe the night sky for the Perseid

Astronomers observe the night sky for the Perseid meteor shower at an observatory near the village of Avren east of the Bulgarian capital Sofia last year. The annual meteor shower is promising to put on a dazzling sky show. (Aug. 12, 2009) Credit: AP

Stargazers of all stripes on Long Island and beyond are gearing up for a meteor shower that experts call one of the most spectacular light shows of the year.

The Perseid meteor shower, which is expected to be visible with the naked eye anywhere in the country Saturday night and early Sunday, has the amateur and professional astronomy worlds abuzz.

"It should be a pretty good light show, weather permitting," said Allard Beutel, a NASA spokesman.

He said the meteors shoot through the sky at a rate of up to 100 per hour and that the shower is so named because it radiates from the constellation Perseus.

Locally, astronomy buffs plan to observe at home or at popular gathering spots such as the Custer Observatory in Southold, which is hosting a Perseid Meteor Shower Party starting at 7 Saturday night. The event will also feature Music for Meteors, an outdoor presentation by Chris Peters.

The biggest question will be the weather. There's a 30 to 40 percent chance of rain Saturday night and cloud cover is possible, the National Weather Service says.

"This is great," said Glenn Wester of Smithtown, a software engineer and member of the Astronomical Society of Long Island, an amateur group. "Meteor showers are always a lot of fun . . . It's nice to get out under the night sky."

Wester, who will be observing from Custer, said he's setting up a time-lapse camera that will take shots of the sky every 30 seconds, but he said you don't need a telescope or binoculars to appreciate the show.

"It's great for the public because no equipment is required," Wester said.

David van Popering, of Mattituck, vice president of the Custer Observatory and operator of its large telescope, said hundreds of people showed up to view the Perseids last year, many equipped with only lawn chairs, wine and cheese. "People who have been here before are looking forward to it," he said.

The meteor shower comes around the same time each year, Beutel said, when the Earth passes through a cloud of debris left over from the Swift-Tuttle comet, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. The debris -- bits of ice and dust -- burns up as it passes through the Earth's atmosphere, sparking the light show.

NASA experts said the annual meteor shower has been observed for the past 2,000 years.

The Perseid meteor shower:

Appears every year around August.

Best times to see the light show this year are between Saturday evening and early Sunday in the northeastern sky.

Perseid Meteor Shower Party begins at 7 p.m. Saturday at Custer Observatory, 1115 Main Bayview Rd., Southold.

For NASA's live chaton the meteor shower with astronomer Bill Cooke, visit nasa.gov/connect/chat/perseids_2012.html. The chat will be held from 11 p.m. Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday.

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