It’s early August, which means the annual Perseid meteor shower is active, and ready to peak. Perseids are one of the best, brightest, and it feels like we can use them now more than ever to add wonder and distraction to these rather embarrassing times.
This famous shower comes around this time every year as the Earth moves through a cloud of debris left behind by the giant comet 109P / Swift-Tuttle. Pieces of dust, pebbles and other cosmic seas collide in our atmosphere, igniting in short, bright lines and even occasional full fires, flowing through the night sky.
In 2020, Perseids are expected to peak on August 11 and 12, when the Moon should be slightly less than half full.
The popularity of the shower is a combination of the fact that it is one of the strongest, with up to 100 meteors visible per hour on average, and it coincides with the warm summer nights in the northern hemisphere. The waning moon is likely to wash away many visible meteors, but that still leaves a lot that should be easy to see if you do a little planning.
See the Perseid meteor shower make a celestial scene all over the world
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Generally, a good strategy is to head to Perseids as late as possible in the evening, but still before the moon rises in your location. So in New York, for example, you would like to be as far away from all that light pollution as possible around 11:00 on Tuesday evening (peak night) because the moon will rise around an hour later at 12:08 a.m. Wednesday. (You can view the sunset and moon for your location with a site like TimeandDate.com.)
You can also try blocking the moon by placing yourself next to a building, a tree or something else that holds some of those moons from your retinas.
The moon will begin to disappear completely after the middle of the month, and although the Perseids will pass their prime minister, they will still be active and visible. This half-roof shower with completely dark sky can be almost the same as the full top with a bright moon, so do not think that you necessity go out on peak night to catch it.
Once you have decided on the perfect time and a place with minimal light interference and a wide view of the sky, just stand back, let your eyes adjust and relax. Pillows, blankets, room chairs and soft drinks make the ideal experience. It may take about 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust in the dark, so make sure you are patient. If you follow all my advice, you are all but guaranteed to see a meteor.
It really does not matter where you look at the sky, as long as you have a wide view. That meant, Perseids would seem to radiate from the constellation of Perseus, the Hero. If you want to practice being an advanced meteor detector, find Perseus and try to focus there while you watch. Then just try to look up without focusing anywhere. See if you notice a difference. We are still dealing with the unpredictability of nature, so the results will vary.
Probably the best part of Perseids every year are the wonderful photos we take of talented astrophotographers spending long nights out.
As always, if you catch any beauties yourself, please share them with me on Twitter or Instagram @EricCMack.