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Perseid Meteor Shower to light up Western Pa. sky

| Monday, July 25, 2016, 11:20 p.m.

Every summer, the Earth passes through the trail of rock and dust left by Comet Swift-Tuttle.

Earth's gravity pulls the fragments, which burn up as they enter our atmosphere, creating the Perseid Meteor Shower, said Ed Moss of Avalon, president of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh.

On Aug. 11, weather permitting, the association will host a free viewing party for the Perseid at Mingo Creek Park Observatory in Washington County.

Of the yearly meteor showers, “Perseid is the biggest one every year,” Moss said.

The meteor shower will be the most intense on the nights of Aug. 11 and 12.

The Amateur Astronomers Association was founded in 1929 in Pittsburgh's North Side as a telescope-making group and has about 400 members.

It maintains two observatories — the Wagman Observatory in West Deer and the Mingo Observatory — and hosts monthly star-viewing parties and educational events where attendees learn about astronomy.

The observatory will open at 9 p.m. and will remain open until dawn, said Kathy DeSantis of Monongahela, vice president of the association. The best time to see the meteor shower will be after 1 a.m., when the moon sets, and nothing is illuminating the sky.

This year, DeSantis said, Comet Swift-Tuttle's dust trail is predicted to be thicker than usual. As a result, astronomers estimate that there will be 75 to 100 meteors falling per hour.

The comet's nucleus is 16 miles long, and it takes 133 years for the comet to orbit the sun. The last time Swift-Tuttle passed the closest point in its orbit to the sun was in 1992.

In addition to the meteor shower, guests will be able to view planets and constellations through the association's stock of high powered telescopes.

“It's just a very quiet night,” she said. “Take a lawn chair, take your blanket. Give your eyes 15 to 20 minutes to adjust. It's kind of like a combination of watching fireworks and the ocean.”

On Aug. 12 and 13, the association will host its regular star-viewing parties at Mingo and Wagman obervatories. Starting at dusk, guests are invited to look at the stars and constellations through the equipment at both observatories. The star-viewing events are free, but donations are welcome.

Max Siegelbaum is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at msiegelbaum@tribweb.com.

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