The annual summer Perseid meteor shower is set to display its glory in our skies over the next couple of days. The show comes as Earth passes through the dust trail of the Swift-Tuttle Comet. The meteors that scorch through the atmosphere appear to come from the constellation Perseus. The peak of the show is expected to be this evening, Thursday the 12th of August. The show should be particularly easy to view this year since there will be little light interference from the moon.
If you go outside a little early on Thursday evening, around sunset, you’ll see a beautiful gathering of planets in the sunset sky–Venus, Mars, Saturn and the crescent Moon. It’s a nice way to start a meteor watch. Here are a few tips to help you have the best viewing experience.
- Check the weather. If it’s cloudy in your area there’s no point to the rest of it. Checking the weather will also let you know if you should bring a coat or warm clothes.
- Clear Sky Charts are a good way to determine how dark and cloudy your night sky will be. For example, here is the chart for Denver:
- Try to get out of the city. Your viewing experience is greatly diminished by light pollution: the leftover glow leaked from densely populated cities’ artificial light. Use this website to help you determine the darkest place for viewing in your area.
- Use this website to help you determine the peak time for viewing in your timezone. The best Perseid activity, no matter the date or location, is usually seen during the last hour before the start of morning twilight, when Perseus lies highest above the horizon in a dark sky. This is usually between the hours of 4:00 AM and 5:00 AM for most of us. If you can’t time it exactly don’t worry, anytime after midnight you should see a healthy number of “shooting stars” throughout the night.
- The meteors will appear to be coming from the near the Persius constellation. So try to find a location with a low horizon to the north-northeast (if you are in Northern hemisphere). It’s not important that you look precisely at the Persius constellation but a goodstar chart will help you orientate yourself to the heavens and give you an idea of what you are looking at. Sky maps can also be found online and for the iPhone.
- Relax your eyes and let you gaze wander this will allow you to pick up on the quick flashes that are produced by the shower.
- A coat or blanket
- A flashlight
- A compass (or a good sense of direction)
- A folding lounge chair
- Drinks & snacks
- A sense of wonder
Things to bring:
Most of all it’s important to have fun and enjoy the splendors of nature. If you’re interested in learning more about meteor showers this amateur astronomy website is a good place to start.