Tips for Enjoying the Perseid Meteor Shower

Perseid meteor streaking across the early morning skies. Credit: NASA

Look Up! Perseid meteors have started to rain down around the world.

According to early global observation reports over the weekend, pre-peak Perseid numbers are starting to ramp up, with some skywatchers already seeing as many as 30 shooting stars per hour. (see also: A Guide to Watching the Spectacular Perseids)

With the moon out of the way during peak meteor times between August 11 and 13 in the overnight hours, expectations are high for a good performance year from the Perseids. As many as 60 to 100 meteors per hour from a dark location may be in the offering.

Here are some tips on getting the most out of your meteor-watching experience:

1. There is no need for binoculars or telescopes to enjoy the celestial fireworks–just unaided eyes. Because the meteors can appear to streak across large parts of the sky, the human eye can soak in large portions of the overhead sky, offering a greater chance to catch one zipping by.

2. Give your eyes at least 15 to 20 minutes to adapt to the darkness of night when you step outside to view the shower. Try to avoid looking at any white lights while under the stars.

Flashlights, porch-lights and headlamps shining into your eyes can set you back as much as 30 minutes in terms of your night adapted vision. As an alternative, use a red colored flashlight for seeing when skywatching. The red color does not interfere with your night vision. It is easy to rig your own red light by taking a few layers of red cellophane gift wrapping and securing it to the end of the flashlight with a rubber band.

3. Seek out a dark location with as little light pollution as possible; the darker the better. More of the fainter meteors will be visible from the countryside, away from city lights.

Even from a suburban backyard or municipal park where there is no direct lights, at least 10 to 30 shooting stars per hour should be visible under clear skies.

For more sky events check out our weekly skywatching column.

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Changing Planet

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.