Will rain clouds push out wildfire smoke in time for weekend meteor shower?

The annual Perseids fireball spectacle also has to contend with an uncooperative moon

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      It looks like the smoke haze that has dogged Lower Mainland skies for weeks might be clearing just in time for the annual Perseid meteor showers.

      The only problem is that the maritime weather system that can reverse the outflow winds that brought the wildfire smoke from the B.C. Interior in the first place might bring rain and overcast skies itself.

      So sky watchers who have been waiting a year for Perseid fireballs might have to catch a bit of luck with some late-night/early-morning sky clearing this Friday to Sunday (August 11 to 13) to satisfy that yearning.

      The Perseid showers—so named because they seem to originate in the vicinity of the constellation Perseus (this weekend, after midnight, basically look toward the PNE, then up)—occur when the Earth travels through the debris trail left by the comet Swift-Tuttle as it orbits the Sun.

      Our planet actually moves through that dusty detritus for about five weeks, until August 24, but the peak for visible meteors starts at about 10 a.m. on Saturday (August 12) and continues for about two days, with a fair number also expected to be visible (weather permitting) on Friday night/Saturday morning as well.

      Most of the meteors—called meteoroids while in space, and meteorites if they survive the trip to our planet's surface—are just the size of a grain of sand, but when they hit the Earth's atmosphere at 59 kilometres per second, they burn with a fierce burst of brilliant light.

      Larger pieces (even just pea-sized) can blossom into a trailing "fireball" that sears both the night sky and viewers' retinas.

      One other factor that may put a damper on the meteoric action is the fact that the nearly three-quarters-full moon, rising shortly before midnight, will outshine some of the smaller, thereby fainter, meteors. However, during a normal Perseids year, this should only bring the frequency down to about one sighting per minute-and-a-half.

      The best viewing areas are away from bright sources of light, so a trip into the countryside is best. Large parks and areas in cities where streetlights are shielded by trees offer meteor-sighting opportunities as well, but you can see the brighter ones from almost anywhere, including back yards.

      Finally, the longer you give your eyes to adjust to the darkness (30 minutes is ideal), the better your viewing experience will be. Bring a folding chair if you go to a park, lean back comfortably, and wait.