HEAVENS ABOVE: This week is a great time to look to the skies for fireballs like this one, caught breaking up high overhead recently.
HEAVENS ABOVE: This week is a great time to look to the skies for fireballs like this one, caught breaking up high overhead recently. John Schumack

Great balls of fire light up night

WATCH for shooting stars this weekend.

If you're able to get away from the city lights, you may be able to catch some fireballs as well from the Perseid meteor shower before they get washed out by the brightest supermoon of the year.

The good news is there's evidence this year's Perseid meteor shower is already ramping up.

People are already seeing fireballs from this annual shower, which peaks overnight on August 12 and early dawn August 13, any time after midnight from any part of Australia.

Generally this is a good shower for beginners, with estimates of dozens of meteors per hour.

As with all showers, the best time for viewing will be from around 3am until an hour before sunrise.

For the best view, try lying flat on your back, face eastward and give your eyes 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness.

METEOR FACTS

  • Meteor showers originate from leftover fragments of comets and asteroids.
  • Comets that travel through the sun leave dust behind, and when the Earth passes through that debris, those remnants clash with the atmosphere, disintegrate and generate colourful, sparkling streaks.
  • Meteoroids move very fast. Some enter the Earth's atmosphere at as much as 50km per second.
  • The International Space Station is covered with a thick layer of Kevlar, used in making bullet-proof vests, as protection from the 100,000 or so meteoroids striking it during its 20-year life span. True!
  • Meteorites contain the oldest-known rocks in our solar system, probably formed billions of years before our solar system was born.
  • More than 24,000 meteorites are known to have landed on Earth, but only 34 are believed to have originated on Mars.

Is there money in meteorites? Are they valuable? You bet. Many people make an excellent living buying and selling space rocks and some meteorites are as valuable, by weight, as gold nuggets.

  • Meteorites may look like Earth rocks or they may have a burned appearance.
  • They may be dense metallic chunks or more rocky. Some may have thumbprint-like depressions, roughened or smooth exteriors.
  • They vary in size from sand-size grains to large boulders.

The largest individual iron meteorite is the Hoba meteorite from southwest Africa, which has a mass of about 54,000kg. You know, considering the vast number of meteorites that fall, one can't help but wonder why anyone hasn't been badly hurt or killed by them.

The value of a meteorite is typically determined by many different factors, including rarity of type, condition, size and visual appeal. Rare types of meteorites usually retail for about $2 per gram, while high quality specimens are worth about $25 per gram.

At the high end of the pricing scale are pieces of the planet Mars and our own moon. Past asteroid impacts on these worlds have thrown fragments into space, some eventually landing on our own planet, resulting in meteorites from the Moon and Mars. These extremely rare specimens are of great value to collectors and may sell for as much as $1000 per gram.

SUPERMOON

Hey, be prepared to be supermooned again.

This Monday night the Moon will be a little bigger and a little brighter than normal, meaning we're in for what's called a 'supermoon'. A supermoon occurs at the time in the Moon's orbit when it's closest to Earth, but the term actually originated from the studies of modern astrology.

Make sure you're outside on Monday night and ready to check out just how breathtakingly beautiful it looks in the night sky as it rises at 6pm. This will be the closest full moon of 2014.



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