Like the dozens of people who gathered by their cars at Jones Beach's West End, Tom Lynch of Lynbrook was hopeful that he could get a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower due to hit the skies over Long Island on Monday night.
"I hope it happens but I don't think so," the amateur astronomer said as he adjusted the large telescope he had brought to focus on Jupiter and Saturn which burned brightly in the sky just off the moon.
He join a number of Long Island stargazers who had longed for a special treat Monday night when the night sky was most likely to offer the best chance to see a series of celestial streaks of light as the annual Perseid meteor shower comes into view.
George Gorman, regional director for Long Island state parks, said thousands of people were expected to flock to four state parks that are open through Monday night and into Tuesday morning just for the occasion. The gazing sites include West End II of Jones Beach State Park, Field 3 of Gov. Alfred E. Smith/Sunken Meadow State Park, the upper parking lot of Montauk Point State Park, and the main parking lot of Wildwood State Park.
“We do expect a crowd,” Gorman said at about 6 p.m. “We do this every year and it is very popular.”
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration calls the Perseid shower, which comes around every year and peaks in mid-August, “the best meteor shower of the year” for its fast, bright meteors that boast “long ‘wakes’ of light and color behind them as they streak through Earth’s atmosphere.”
The showers can be seen with the naked eye, though enthusiasts may search the heavens with telescopes and binoculars as well.
“Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids,” NASA posted on its website. “When comets come around the sun, they leave a dusty trail behind them. Every year Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere and disintegrate to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky.”
NASA experts said that as many as 50 to 100 meteors may be seen per hour.
Karl Silverberg, an amateur astronomer and Islip-based attorney was ahead of the crowds seeking out the best spots to gaze up at the stars. He said he saw three two-second bursts of light at about 4 a.m. Monday while watching the Perseid meteor shower for the first time.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Silverberg, who is vice president of the Astronomical Society of Long Island. “I saw three very bright meteors. I was out there for a little while on and off and I saw three within a span of about five minutes.”
Gorman said that the state parks offer stargazing permits for year-round observation at some parks but that no permits will be required for the Perseid shower at the four locations.
Steve DiTullioof Queens Village rode out to Jones Beach on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle Monday, but he was disappointed that the shower didn't arrive when night fell.
"I hope I see something," he said, adding that he still enjoyed the trip if only to take in the cool night air. "I have been coming out here for 45 years. It's such a beautiful sight."