The Perseids are taking place in this period, and this year promises to be an especially good one.
Skygazers rejoice! Astronomers expect an outburst of Perseid meteors, with over 200 meteors per hour on peak night – double the usual rate. The peak is expected to today, on Friday night, and here’s what you should do to maximize the chances of seeing falling stars:
Do your reading (this one is really optional, but you can really get to know and appreciate what you’re seeing)
The Perseids are a prolific meteor shower associated with the Swift–Tuttle comet. They are called so because of the point where they appear to originate, in the Perseid constellation. The shower is visible from mid-July each year, with the peak in activity between 9 and 14 August, with slight variations from year to year.
“Here’s something to think about. The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago,” said Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Alabama. “And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.”
Use technology to your advantage
There are several apps you can use to find the Perseid constellation as well as other things. Astronomy apps can show you the position of several constellations, planets, and even the International Space Station. There are a few free apps you can use, as well as a few paid ones. I haven’t tried the paid ones, but SkyView Free seems to work fine, and is absolutely free. However, keep in mind that these apps may not always be reliable.
Check the weather
I know, this is a no-brainer, but do remember to check the weather. Most importantly, check the forecast for cloud coverage over your viewing spot. If it’s cloudy, your chances of seeing something go down dramatically.
Find the darkest place you can
Another simple thing, but it can make a huge difference. Light (especially city lights) can cover your vision. Go outside the city if possible, and if not just pick a dark place like a park. Try to also find a place with lots of visible sky, where trees or buildings don’t obscure your view.
I’m seriously on fire with the no-brainers. The key, however, is to not look directly up, but focus on an area between the horizon and directly up. In other words, focus your gaze halfway up from the horizon.
Go out after the Moon has set
The Moon is another source of light you want to avoid, so try to go out after it has set. Obviously, this time varies from place to place, but in America for example, that should be just after midnight today.
Know what to expect
I was surprised to see that many people were expecting huge fireballs in the sky. Obviously, this is not the case. Most meteors last only a few seconds, and while a few will be bigger and last longer, but for the majority, they’ll be small and quick. However, during showers, there’ll be plenty of them. There’s probably going to be one every few minutes, with 200 / hour during the peak!
This is supposed to be a pleasant experience, so while a bit of planning helps, don’t make it a drag. Take some sandwiches, make a picnic and get some good friends along. Open a bottle of wine – why not? Enjoy the wonderful night and the dazzling astronomic display!
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.