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Perseid Meteor Shower: 'Shooting stars of summer'

Written by Pete "Star Boy" Zapadka on .

 Those streaks of light zipping across the sky this weekend may not be caused by lightning or man-made fireworks.

Instead, the light show more likely is from the Perseid Meteor Shower. 

What are the Perseids? (BTW . . . say it like this: PURR -- see -- id.) They're the annual "shooting stars of summer," particles of dust that come fromComet Swift-Tuttle. While the comet is not near Earth right now (its next close pass to the sun is July 12, 2126), our planet each August passes through the comet's orbit and encounters debris from it. When the particles enter Earth's atmosphere, they "burn up" because of friction with our air and cause the light display.

Most meteor showers are best seen after local midnight when the side of Earth we are on is facing into our planet's orbit -- that is, it's as though we're looking out of the front windshield while our car is moving forward rapidly. Local midnight for us is about 1:20 a.m. at this time of year (because we're observing Daylight Saving Time and because we're west of the meridian that determines Eastern Time).

The peak of the shower is predicted to be around 2 to 3 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12, which means it'll be daylight here. So for Pittsburghers, Sunday night-Monday morning (Aug. 11-12), say from around 1 to 5 a.m. and Monday night into Tuesday morning (Aug. 12-13) at similar times should offer optimum viewing.

I'd expect Sunday night-Monday morning to be the best overall. The Monday night-Tuesday morning is actually past peak so there is a chance things will be on the wane.

This does not mean you cannot look at other times! Certainly you can! The Perseids are visible over a long period of time; they're just at their peak as I described above. You should be able to see some all weekend.

Also, the moon will set before midnight so its light will not interfere with meteor observing.

I'm often asked: "Where do I look?"

My answer: "Up!"

While the meteors appear to come from the constellation Perseus,  which rises before midnight in the northeast at this time of year, I tell people not necessarily to look in that direction. If you do, the meteors may be shooting past your line of sight to your left or right. The best thing to do is look into the darkest part of the sky from YOUR location. Get comfortable in a lounge chair and remember to have a blanket handy.

And by all means, get away from lights! From a dark location, there is a chance of seeing 90 meteors an hour. The Perseids are best known as the annual meteor that produces the most fireballs, or bright, brilliant meteors.

Where can people go to see the shower?

The Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh has two observatories that will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights: http://www.3ap.org

*--Wagman Observatory is in Deer Lakes Regional Park in Frazer, Allegheny County, not far from Tarentum: 724-224-2510.

*--Mingo Creek Park Observatory is in Mingo Creek County Park in Nottingham, Washington County, about 10 miles east of Washington, Pa.: 724-348-6150.

Also, a new organization called Pittsburgh Space Weather -- http://pittsburghspace.org/ -- is holding a Saturday night Perseid event at Moraine State Park in Butler County. Here is a link to that information: http://pittsburghspace.org/2013/08/05/perseid-meteor-shower-important-updates/

So do yourself a huge favor: Turn off the lights, turn off the TV and turn onto the night sky!

robertoporto

Photo: Veteran astrophotographer Roberto Porto from http://www.space.com

 

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#ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion: Pittsburgh edition

Written by Heather Schmelzlen on .

Some brave Twitter users are confessing what they like — and don't like — about Pittsburgh:

 

My unpopular Steelers opinion? I like the bumbleebee uniforms. #sorryimnotsorry

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(Photo by Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette)

 

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Nixon's anniversary: Thank the Washington Post

Written by Kim Lyons on .

 In case you recently emerged from a coma, the big news in the news biz this week was the sale of the venerable Washington Post to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

It's a big deal to those of us who started our careers in the dead-tree medium of print journalism, but I fear it's hard to explain to younger journalists, who don't remember pre-Internet news cycles, why it's so significant. The Associated Press kind of glossed over a key point in its second-day analysis:

The Washington Post, like most newspapers, has been losing readers and advertisers to the Internet while watching its value plummet. The newspaper, celebrated a generation ago for breaking the Watergate scandal, has been forced in recent years to scale back its ambitions, cut its newsroom staff repeatedly and close several bureaus.

That greatly understates the significance of the "Watergate scandal," which meant the resignation of a president due to dogged reporting from the Washington Post. Would the journalism that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did at the Washington Post to uncover Richard Nixon's misdeeds be possible today in the shrinking newsrooms, which compete in a now-now-now news environment? I hope so.

Today's the anniversary of Nixon's resignation.   

What will this generation of journalists point to as its defining moment? And what role will a Bezos-owned Washington Post play?

 

 

 

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Pittsburgh: It's OK to be awesome

Written by Kim Lyons on .

Since Pittsburgh's football team has won the trophy named for Vince Lombardi six times, many who live here are probably familiar with one of the great coach's most famous quotes:

"When you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before." 

I would like to encourage my fellow Pittsburghers to follow that advice, especially when it comes to this meaningless "best of" lists, the most recent of which circulated over the weekend, courtesy of Buzzfeed: 16 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Greatest City on the Planet.

I didn't have to read the list to know it would mention the skyline, Primanti's sandwiches, and our sports teams (for the record, yes, I have read it). I also knew I would not have to wait long before the list was being circulated all over social media as "Hey! Look! Pittsburgh is the best, someone else said so!"
In the past few years, Pittsburgh has been on an endless number of lists that apparently span the life cycle: Most livable city. Best places to raise a family. Best places to retire (I didn't come across any "best places to die" lists, but I'm sure we'd be on that, too).

Since I am not a native Pittsburgher (but married one, and am raising my family here), this reaction to lists praising Pittsburgh puzzles me. Is it an inferiority complex? The writer of the Buzzfeed list makes reference to the famous 1868 quote by writer James Parton, who said Pittsburgh was "hell with the lid off." Not a nice image, but far from true any more. Does Pittsburgh still think it needs to prove Parton wrong, nearly 150 years later? 

Or, is it still getting used to the idea of being a world-class city, as a colleague suggested: It's not comfortable in its own identity as a place with a lot to offer. Like an overachieving college kid, who's trying to get as many references on his resume as possible, maybe Pittsburgh is still not convinced of its own awesomeness. 

So, let's return to our football comparison, and assume when it comes to shedding its collective insecurity, Pittsburgh is still making its way down the field, past Atlanta and Boston (New England, for the sake of our metaphor), but hasn't quite reached the end zone.

Hurry up and finish the run, though, Pittsburgh. Get used to the idea that you don't need anyone else to tell you how fantastic you are. Then we can act like we've been here before, and that we're not going anywhere. 

0805successburgh

 

 

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Pennsylvania police chief, who makes viral gun videos, gets suspended

Written by Heather Schmelzlen & Mila Sanina on .

Remember Mark Kessler, the online-famous police chief with anger issues and gun fetish from the town of Gilberton? He was the protagonist of Tony Norman's column last week titled, "Police chief exploding with hate for liberals."

He produced a series of profanity-laced YouTube videos in which he brandishes guns, speaks openly about shooting an elected official (Nancy Pelosi) and expresses his rage toward "libtards." When the videos went viral, the town's mayor, Mary Lou Hannon, responded with this official statement:

Anyone asking the borough to take action against the chief, when he has commited no illegal act, no violation of policy and no misuse of borough times, is asking that we establish an official political view of the borough and impose it upon one or more of our employees, which would obviously be unconstitutional.

Well, it looks as though Ms. Hannon has changed her tune, as the police chief has been suspended for 30 days without pay. But it's not for the reasons you might think. According to a CNN article, his suspension resulted from using "borough property for non-borough purposes without prior borough permission" for one of his videos.

For his part, Mr. Kessler has expressed no regrets, and has taken to Facebook (on both his personal page and a fan page, which has almost 8,000 likes) to plead his case.

I'm scorned & Hated, politicians from both sides of political parties, main stream media, liberals, are doing everything they can to destroy my life, family country, I have to give credit where credit is due, for once democrats & republicans showed their true colors, if you stand up for your country, constitution ( THEY WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING ABOUT THE PERSON WHO DOES SO) I WILL NEVER BACK DOWN. I rather die defending freedom then kneel to TYRANTS!

He also claims on his Facebook page that borough officials are trying to have him terminated during his 30-day suspension.

And on his website, he links to a fundraising campaign apparently started by a local pastor to support the police chief during his suspension. So far, $1,230 of the $10,000 goal has been raised.

What do you think? Should the borough have suspended the police chief? Should he be terminated?

kessler

Photo from Mark Kessler's Facebook fan page

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