Space shower forecast PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT, Sentinel Staff Writer   
Friday, 02 August 2013 08:57
For specks of space dust, meteors put on quite a show.
And the main act comes later this month with the so-called Perseid shower. "It is generally known as the best meteor shower of the year," said Pam Menchaca, a senior naturalist with the Wood County Park District. Menchaca will be leading "Streaming Stars," a meteor gazing program Aug. 12 at 10 p.m. on the astronomy deck of the Beaver Creek Preserve, 23028 Long Judson Road, Grand Rapids.
The meteor shower takes its name from the Perseus Constellation. The meteors "appear to us that they're radiating from the Perseus Constellation," the naturalist said. That's an optical illusion.
Meteor showers are created when the dust that comes off the tail of a comet enters Earth's atmosphere and is set aglow as it burns up.
The Perseids are created as the Earth intersects the dust trail of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. Sharp-eyed observers may spot as many as 60 meteors in an hour.
Though, Menchaca expects plenty to see from 10 p.m. to midnight, the best time is the hours right before dawn. Once the district has sponsored a campout, so people could stay overnight to watch the showers. "That was the best," Menchaca said.
Finding a place to see the meteors, or the stars for that matter, is getting more difficult, she said, as suburban growth, and the attendant light pollution, extends further into the country. "It's getting harder."
It's been a few years since the district has offered the program.
People enjoy being in the park after dark. "It's a program where you don't have to do anything, you just lie there and look at the sky," Menchaca said.
She provides lemonade and popcorn, though attendees need to bring their own cups and bowls.
"It makes people look out and see how big their world really is," she said.
The naturalist said she's not an expert in astronomy, but enjoys doing the program because it gives her a chance to investigate a subject she's interested in.
That means learning about stars, as well as brushing up on the Greek myth of Perseus, the namesake of the constellation.
Curiosity about nature has deep roots for Menchaca. Growing up she spent a lot of time with both sets of grandparents in Kentucky, venturing along the hills, hollers and creeks.
She with her brothers and cousins were allowed to venture freely into the countryside, "just being in touch with nature all the time."
"Looking a mole in the eye," she said, "that stuff stirs a person."
In seventh grade, she had a science teacher who sparked her interest in environmental issues, and then a number of years later a backpacking trip in the Great Smoky Mountains confirmed her intent to go into nature education.
She went on to get a degree in resource management from the University of Toledo. She worked for the Metroparks of the Toledo Area before coming to work for the park district 18 years ago.
Her goal is constant "to get people to experience nature."
"If you don't experience nature," she said, "you're not going to care about it."

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