Viewing Guide: Perseid Meteor Shower to light up night sky

Tips to becoming a backyard astronomer

perseid
Perseid Meteor Shower (Source: NASA)

Look up!

A heavenly display of “shooting stars” will soon light up the night sky!

The Perseid Meteor Shower will put on a show when it reaches its peak on the nights of Aug. 11-12 and Aug. 12-13.

NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke says it could be the best shower of the year thanks to the moon.

He told Space.com:

“This year the moon will be near new moon, it will be a crescent, which means it will set before the Perseid show gets underway after midnight,” Cooke told Space.com. “The moon is very favorable for the Perseids this year, and that’ll make the Perseids probably the best shower of 2018 for people who want to go out and view it.”

During its peak, you should be able to see 60 to 70 meteors per hour.

When to see them?

The best way to see the Perseids is to go outside between midnight and dawn Saturday, August 11 into August 12, or Sunday night, August 12 into August 13.

Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.

Lie on your back and look straight up.

That’s when Earth will pass through the densest, dustiest area left behind by the Comet Swift-Tuttle.

What am I looking at?

Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids.

In this case, we’re talking about the very large Comet Swift-Tuttle.

When it comes around the sun, it leaves a dusty trail behind them.

Every year Earth passes through these debris trails.

These bits collide with our atmosphere and disintegrate, which create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky.

What’s neat about this particular meteor shower are the fireballs.

According to NASA:

“Fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. This is due to the fact that fireballs originate from larger particles of cometary material. Fireballs are also brighter, with apparent magnitudes greater than -3.”

Tips for becoming a backyard astronomer:

Our friends at Heartland Weekend asked Jennifer Wiseman for some advice on becoming a backyard astronomer.

Good news: you don’t need anything special to see the Perseid meteor shower.

  • Just look up. You can see a ton with your naked eye. That list includes the Perseid Meteor Shower, Earth’s Moon, stars and more.
  • Most important: a dark sky. This might be the most important tip. It is possible to catch a glimpse of a meteor or two from the suburbs. But to experience a true meteor shower, avoid city lights.
  • Bring binoculars. You can see even more. Like the detail on our moon or a glimpse of Jupiter and its inner moons.
  • Know your constellations. You can easily identify any of the constellations lighting up the night sky using apps like Sky Guide for Apple and Sky Map for Android.
  • Dress appropriately. It can be chilly in the hours before dawn when you’re skywatching. So we suggest making sure you dress in layers. You might also bring a blanket and lawn chair to make yourself comfortable.