Were you one of the millions that watched the 2012 Perseid meteor shower light up the sky during its peak in the early morning hours of August 12? Were you one of those people that couldn’t help themselves and had to count the meteors seen streaking across the sky? Well, according to Science@NASA, now you can put your viewing and counting to good use: NASA wants to hear from you and get those numbers.
That’s right. NASA. Oh, and they have an app for that…
It’s called, appropriately enough, “Meteor Counter.”
“We’ve developed an app for Android and iPhones to help amateur sky watchers count meteors in a scientific way and report the results to us,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “It’s called the ‘Meteor Counter’ and it’s available for free in the Android Marketplace and Apple’s App Store.”
It appears that NASA has a use for the number of shooting stars people see on a given night. The data helps the Meteoroid Environment Office study and model the debris streams of meteor showers. In the particular case of the Perseid meteor shower, an individual might observe during peak hours up to a hundred hurtling meteors each hour. (The average on August 12 was estimated to be at around 90 per hour, according to Geoff Gaherty, who put together a meteor shower schedule or Space.com.)
But if you missed the peak of the 2012 Perseid meteor shower, don’t worry, there are still plenty of meteors to see (and that’s not counting viewing the planetary alignment of Venus, Jupiter, and our waning crescent moon through the morning of August 13).
(Watch the NASA video showing where to view planetary alignment during the 2012 Perseid meteor shower.)
Not only will the Perseids continue to rocket across the heavens — albeit in ever-decreasing numbers — until August 22 (they started entering Earth’s atmosphere on July 23), the biggest shooting star spectacle of the year is followed closely by another meteor shower at the end of the month, the Aurigids (which peak on Sept. 1).
Needless to say, there are plenty of meteors to count.
And if being a meteor counter doesn’t slake your thirst to be an involved and productive citizen scientist, NASA has all sorts of programs available for the amateur and professional astronomer who would like to lend the space agency a helping hand. Programs include observing comets (usually where meteor shower debris originates, such as the Perseids emanating from cast-off from comet Swift-Tuttle), monitoring lunar meteoroid impacts on its dark side, and mapping Mars (because Curiosity and the orbiters can’t do it all).