The Perseids meteor shower peaks this week on Wednesday and Thursday nights (August 11th & 12th). The Moon is in its crescent phase, so its light won’t diminish your ability to see the fainter meteors this year.
You don’t need any special equipment to enjoy the show, just some clear weather and preferably a viewing location away from city lights. From your backyard in an urban residential setting, you can expect to see a dozen meteors (“shooting stars”) every hour. But if you can get far from the glow of the city, you will be treated to more than one meteor per minute, some seen leaving behind a luminescent glow in their path and others ending their few seconds journey across the sky with a brief flash of light.
It’s best to use a full-body recliner when viewing the meteor shower, so you can comfortably stare straight up at the sky. You want your view to be filled with as much of the sky as possible, because the meteors can appear anywhere overhead, though they will seem to be coming from a point off towards the East (where the constellation Perseus is rising in the early part of the night).
Once you’ve set up your chairs and recliners and you and your companions are all settled in for viewing, turn off any outdoor lights, flashlights and your phones so you can let your eyes adapt to the darkness. It takes about 15 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust so you can see many more of the meteors. You will also see a lot more stars and the Milky Way too. Remember to bring some insect repellant, a blanket, some water and maybe some snacks and music to share with your friends while viewing.
Also, if you have binoculars, this is the perfect time to use them when you are ready to take a break from meteor watching. You don’t need star charts; just point your binoculars where you see brighter patches in the Milky Way to discover many of the famous nebulae and star clusters for yourself, just like Galileo and Messier first did hundreds of years ago.
Wishing everyone clear and darker skies!
–Dr. Ian Shelton, DDOD Chair