Meteor shower to hit its peak this weekend

Local astronomical groups and stargazers will look to the skies this weekend as the Perseid meteor shower shoots across the night sky.

Area groups are setting aside time this weekend to get together to view the spectacular display.

In Winchester, James Charles Winery & Vineyard will host a meteor shower watch party from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. tonight.

Coy Ferrell, director of marketing, said this will be the first time the winery has put this event together for the public.

“We thought this would be a really fun event to get the community together and great for families of all ages,” he said.

The event is free and open to the public. Wine will be available for purchase until 11 p.m. and 3Fires Oven will have wood-fired pizza available for purchase all evening as well, he added.

The Winery & Vineyard is located at 4063 Middle Road, Winchester.

Ferrell said this event occurs yearly when the Earth’s orbit intersects with a debris field left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which creates up to 150 visible meteors per hour in the sky at its peak. That debris burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

“This year should be especially spectacular, as the gravitational pull of Jupiter has pulled several clusters of meteors together, which will result in a higher frequency of visible meteors in the sky,” he added.

Another area group will host a watch party on Saturday night.

Dottie Edwards, president of the Shenandoah Astronomical Society, said her group will be working with the National Parks Service at Cedar Creek at 7 p.m. Saturday to host a watch party. The night will begin with a program about the Civil War history in the region. Following that, the group will set up telescopes to observe the night sky.

The event will be held at the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation Thoburn Redoubt tract.

“To the best of my knowledge, we will stay out there until all guests have left,” she said. “Typically that means until 11 p.m. to midnight.”

In the case of questionable weather, call ahead at 540-869-3051 to verify the event is still taking place.

The Shenandoah Astronomical Society sets up about three to four observing sessions each month, she added. They include public and private events.

“We are always excited to share the incredible sights of the night sky and deep space with the public,” she said. “We currently have working relationships with Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation, Frederick County Parks and Recreation, the National Parks Service and the Virginia Parks that are open to the public.”

According to a NASA website, http://tiny.cc/8d1tdy, the meteor shower has been active since July 13 and will continue through Aug. 26, but peak activity will be this weekend.

“The Perseids feature fast and bright meteors that frequently leave trains. Best viewing will be from after midnight to before dawn. Even though the moon phase is not the best for viewing, the 2016 shower will be an outburst, with rates double the normal levels,” the site stated.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com

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