It was early August, which means the annual Perseid meteor shower is active and about to peak. Perseids are among the finest, brightest many shooting stars, and it looks like we can now use them more than ever to add a bit of surprise and distraction at these rather bleak times.
This famous showers appear around this time each year when Earth passes through a cloud of debris left behind by the giant comet 109P / Swift-Tuttle. Dust, pebbles and other cosmic debris hit our atmosphere, burning into short streaks of light and sometimes even fireball streaks in the night sky.
By 2020, the Perseids are expected to peak on August 11 and 12, when the moon will be less than half.
The popularity of the showers is a combination of the fact that it is one of the strongest, an average of 100 visible meteors per hour and that coincides with warm summer nights in Northern Hemisphere. The weakened moon has the ability to wash away many other visible asteroids, but that still leaves plenty of things you could easily see if you plan a little.
In general, a good strategy is to go out to find Perseids in the evening as late as possible, but still before the moon rises at your location. So in New York, for example, you want to stay as far away from all that light pollution as possible at around 11pm on Tuesday night (peak night) because the moon will rise about an hour later. 12:08 am. on Wednesday. (You can look up sunsets and moons for your location using a website like TimeandDate.com.)
Several Perseids 2019, seen from Macedonia.
You can also try to block the moon by sitting next to a building, tree, or something else to keep that moonlight out of your retina.
The moon will begin to completely disappear after mid-month, and even though the Perseids have passed their golden age, they are still active and visible. This showdown in the top half with a completely dark sky could be like the climax with a bright moon, so don’t think you right Go out on rush night to catch it.
Once you’ve decided on the perfect time and a place where there is minimal light interference and a wide view of the sky, simply recline, let your eyes adjust and relax. Pillows, blankets, benches and refreshments provide the ideal experience. It can take about 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, so be patient. If you follow all my advice, you will definitely see the shooting star.
It doesn’t really matter where you look in the sky, as long as you have sweeping views. That said, the Perseids will appear radiating from the constellation Perseus, the Heroes. If you want to practice becoming an advanced meteor observer, locate Perseus and try to focus there while observing. Then try to just look up without focusing anywhere. See if you notice a difference. We’re still dealing with the unpredictability of nature, so the results will be different.
Arguably the best part of Perseids each year are the stunning photographs we get from talented astrophotographers spending long nights outside.
As always, if you’re taking any beauty yourself, share it with me on Twitter or Instagram @EricCMack.
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