Watching the Stars in Wimberley and Other Night Sky Entertainment
The Wimberley night sky can be so beautiful that it is an added attraction for favorite night time outdoor activities such as performances at the EmilyAnn Theatre and movies at the Corral Theatre.

Although we don't have exactly the same views as that of the Hubble telescope shown in the image below, summertime skygazing in Wimberley can be an activity for the whole family... fun, inspiring, and usually free.

For our viewing pleasure, there are meteor showers throughout the year, a few of which are well worth staying up to watch. Some of these are showers recognized for hundreds of years as annual occurrences. They are usually named for the constellation from which the meteors appear...Quadrantid, Lyrids, and Leonids are examples.

The Orionid meteor shower, consisting of debris from Halley's comet, is reliable...if not often spectacular. Every October the earth flies through the debris path. As the particles of comet dust hit the atmosphere they vaporize, forming incandescent streaks we can enjoy viewing as meteors.

The night skies in Wimberley can be mesmerizing, filled with a display of constellations and occasional meteors. One of the most anticipated meteor showers of the year is the Perseid shower, which reaches its maximum rate of meteoric activity just before mid-August.

Like gems in a jewel box, the stars of open cluster NGC 290 glitter in a beautiful display, brought to us by the Hubble telescope.

With cooperation from the moon (as in no competition), optimal conditions exist for this dramatic event as Earth travels through the densest part of the Perseid stream late night to early morning. Even early evening viewers are likely to be rewarded with many spectacular "shooting stars" each hour.

The best time to view the Perseid meteor showers is usually during the dark hours before dawn around August 12th, when there may be one or two meteors a minute. With a clear sky, this should be quite a show.

But if you just can't afford to lose those hours of sleep, or prefer not to, there are still those beautiful opportunities waiting for you on before and after the peak of the showers. Around 9 PM, Perseus first rises in the northeast. This is when the Perseid Earthgrazers appear. The Earthgrazers are meteors that "...approach from the horizon and skim the atmosphere overhead like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond." They are described as "...long, slow and colorful," and are among the most beautiful of meteors. Although only a few of these may be visible over the course of an hour, seeing only one can make the night a memorable stargazing experience.

Although city lights are encroaching from all directions, and PEC continues to promote the sale of energy-consuming, always-on outdoor lighting that pollutes the night sky in Wimberley in many areas, there are still spots where the night sky activity is highly visible and endlessly entertaining. (Just make sure you have landowner permission to be watching from any location you choose, if it's not a public venue.)

Other meteor displays are known as sporadic. These are random meteors not associated with a particular shower and are the detritus left over from the creation of the solar system or are old dispersed debris not recognizable today as shower meteors.

June to mid-July has a fair number of meteors. The last half of July has rates increasing steadily as the Southern Delta Aquarids around July 27th and 28th and Alpha Capricornids, seen July 30th through August 1st, have maxima at month's end. Even the Perseids are beginning to show a little by this time.

Overall, late July to mid-August is very rich in meteors. As is true this year, the Perseid maximum just before mid-August can be quite a spectacle.

What is the difference between comets and meteors? Meteors appear as fast-moving streaks of light in the night sky. They are frequently referred to as "falling stars" or "shooting stars." Most are white or blue-white in appearance, although other frequent colors are yellow, orange. These momentary wonders can appear at any time in the Wimberley night sky. Meteoroids are the smallest particles orbiting the sun, most no larger than grains of sand, thus can not be observed moving through space because of their small size, unlike comets. These meteoroids become visible to observers on Earth when they enter Earth's atmosphere. They are then referred to as meteors, glowing blue or white, although other colors have been reported. They are rarely seen for periods of more than a few seconds.

Once in a while, a large meteor will not burn up completely as it moves through Earth's atmosphere. The pieces that complete the fall to Earth's surface are known as meteorites.

Comets are primarily composed of ice and dust and seeing a comet with the naked eye is a somewhat rare occurrence. On the average we get a naked-eye comet once every five or six years, including comets that become barely visible to the naked eye. Classic comets with long tails only appear about once every 10 to 12 years. Comets rarely come within a few million miles of Earth making our view of them that of a slow apparent motion across our sky. Typical comets remain visible for periods of several weeks up to several months. They may shed debris that become meteor showers once hitting the Earth's atmosphere.

Watching a meteor shower is an activity for everyone. Just find a safe, dark viewing area where lights don't impair your night vision. Lie down on a blanket or back in a reclining lawn chair positioned so that the horizon appears at the edge of your peripheral vision. Try to make sure you're in a spot where the stars and sky fill your field of view. As meteors streak by, they'll be instantly noticeable.

Meteor watching supplies are simple: comfortable chairs or blankets, bug spray (very important in Wimberley in the summertime), and, if you have one, a red-filtered flashlight to use without ruining your night vision.

Then settle back for one of the wonderful experiences nature has to offer, still available in many areas of Wimberley.