Shooting stars will be matched by shooting tweets during the peak of the Perseids meteor shower beginning Tuesday evening, August 11th until the morning of August 13th, 2009. The Twitter event is part of the celebration of the IYA2009 – International Year of Astronomy 2009.
The spectacle is the result of an celestial event in 1992, when the comet Swift-Tuttle passed by Earth. Shooting stars, as meteors are commonly called, are shed from the comet?s tail as icy debris. The streaks of light occur when small particles enter the Earth?s atmosphere at high speed and disintegrate. Fifty to eighty meteors an hour are expected to be visible in the dark sky during the meteor watch.
A world-wide group of amateurs lead by the UK’s Newbury Astronomical Society will tweet images of the event. Astronomers involved in the Twitter Meteorwatch will be able to answer questions, as twitpics are sent around the world. Steve Owens, the UK Co-coordinator of IYA2009 says, "It’s great that the Newbury Astronomical Society is using a social networking tool like Twitter to bring astronomy to the general public."
Back in May, a similar event took place called Twitter Moonwatch when the Newbury Astronomical Society used an array of telescopes and cameras to constantly stream pictures onto Twitter. It was a galactic success with thousands of people sending questions to the expert astronomers. Richard Fleet, president of the Society thinks Twitter as an ideal way to share astronomy with the masses.
The first video of the meteor shower was posted on YouTube via the Newbury Astro bunker. Watch closely, it shows a black sky with a white streak shooting towards the upper right corner of the screen. Hopefully, later postings will be more spectacular, as twitpics of the Moon, Jupiter, nebulae, and galaxies are expected to be sent as well.
The BBC is live at the Newbury Astro bunker, asking how everyone is enjoying the tweets, wanting to know where everyone is, and promising that the best replies will get on TV.
You must get out of town if you want good seats for the meteor watch. Squaw Valley USA in California, site of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, is holding its annual Perseid Meteor Shower Family Campout at 8,200 feet. Also, turn away from the light of the moon, as well as away from city lights.
Meteor showers are named after the constellation they appear to radiate from. The one causing all the twitter tonight comes from the constellation of Perseus. Perseus reigns in Greek mythology as the hero who decapitated Medusa, the snake haired gorgon who turned anyone who looked upon her to stone. The constellation that bears his name is located in the northern hemisphere.
Flickr is also joining the fun with a group for IYA2009 where images from star parties, astronomy festivals, and other events can be seen.
The most recent astronomical event to grab world attention was the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century on July 22, 2009. According to the IYA2009 Organization which has local and global connections, special solar eclipse sections on participating web portals claim to have received over 160 million clicks, and mobile phone websites were visited more than 70 million times.
The hash for this global Twitter jam is #meteorwatch. Follow @NewburyAS and @astronomy209uk http://twitter.com. Check out more of the IYA2009 happenings at the IYA2009 UK home page and the NASA page dedicated to the International Year of Astronomy.