Stargazers in for a treat

Johannesburg - Joburgers should keep their eyes on the sky soon if they want to experience a heavenly sight.

Earth is going to pass through a trail of space dust this weekend at more than 100 000km/h, causing an annual meteor shower, according to Claire Flanagan, the director of the Wits Planetarium.

File photo: A meteor shower lights up the sky over the Mexican volcano Popocatepetl near the village San Nicolas de los Ranchos in Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: REUTERS

Early risers will also see Venus, the very bright “morning star”, this month, she said.

Every August, our planet passes small rocks in the dust trail left by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which was last seen from Earth in 1992 with the use of binoculars.

These rocks, called Perseid meteors, burn up as they enter Earth’s atmosphere, travelling at about 60km/second.

“Face north at about 5am; if you see one or two Perseids, they will be shooting stars going over your head, from the north,” said Flanagan.

People in Gauteng should be able to see more shooting stars than usual during this time, starting in the pre-dawn hours on Sunday.

“Unfortunately we are too far south to get as good a view of these meteors as they do in the northern hemisphere,” said Flanagan.

She said they are unpredictable and might be seen a few days earlier or later.

This year is not the best for viewing because of the moon brightening the sky, but Flanagan said the “consolation prize” is that Jupiter will also be visible early on Sunday morning.

It will look like a bright star and can be seen just above the moon in the morning, while Venus is below and to the right of the moon.

The shooting stars are very low on SA’s northern horizon and are not likely to be visible from Cape Town. - The Star