You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any. — EarthSky Magazine
The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming our way this weekend. Anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere may be in for a good old-fashioned sky show, just by looking up.
The Perseids are debris from a wandering comet that appears as shooting stars each August. (Records of this light show go back to 36 A.D., though the Swift-Tuttle Comet was discovered much later.) They often provide one of the best shows of the year, if the skies are clear and the moon is not full.
This year, they should be best in the U.S. and Canada late Saturday, August 11, and early Sunday, August 12, especially in the hours after midnight into August 12. Early morning August 13 is another good time to see them, because the moon will be waning (not bright) and late-rising. Astronomers are predicting 50-60 meteors an hour for those who are able to see the Perseids. (That said, we always see fewer meteors than these predicted numbers, so don’t be disappointed. One fantastic shooting star blazing through the sky can produce lifelong memories and awe.)
You won’t need any special equipment to see the Perseids. The naked eye is actually best. Just be sure to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. And hope for a good show! Here are more tips for viewing the Perseids.
The San Francisco Chronicle offers more information about the Perseids, along with some good viewing tips and a sky map.
If you like, you can even be a citizen scientist and help NASA count meteors! Download a free app for iphones and androids and join the meteor count. (Here are more citizen science projects you might be interested in.)
Some of my family’s most relaxed and memorable moments have occurred while gazing at the stars together. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos. It’s natural to share those feelings with those around us, as we use the stars to try to look back through distance and time.
My family remembers one especially wonderful August, when we went to the top of our nearest mountain to see the Perseid meteor shower. Lying in the grass in the dark, we could hear choruses of “oohs” and “aahs” coming from all around the mountain, as people caught sight of the meteors blazing through the night sky. Of course, this year, we’ll be outside again, somewhere, looking for the beautiful Perseids.
Enjoy the show!