As we continue to enjoy what is left of summer, what better way to soak up our warm, muggy nights than by watching a meteor shower from your own backyard?
The Perseid Meteor Shower has been active since the middle of July but is now reaching its peak this week with anywhere from 50-75 meteors expected in an hour the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13.
How can you check out the meteor shower?
It’s easy — go outside after dark and wait for your eyes to adjust. You don’t need any special equipment, just your eyes and some patience. There are some best practices you can do however, that will make sure you are able to make the most of your time spent watching the sky.
- Get away from light pollution. If you live in town or your community is well-lit at night, consider driving to a place that is less-lit. Fortunately, the moon will not offer much light pollution as it is waxing away from the new moon cycle and is only 10-20% full.
- Give yourself at least an hour. It takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark, and the meteors tend to streak across the sky in spurts. While you could see more than 50 meteors per hour, it may take some time for them to move across your field of view. Pack some patience, and maybe a comfy blanket or lawn chair.
- The best time for viewing is a few hours before sunrise. If you don’t want to get up that early (or stay up that late!) you will still be able to see a significant number of meteors after sunset and through the night. If you want the best chance to see the maximum number of meteors though, set an alarm. Sunrise in Central North Carolina the next few mornings is approximately 6:30, so your best bet would be between 3:30 and 5 a.m. Remember, you don’t have to get up this early to enjoy the meteor shower, you should still be able to see a good number of meteors throughout the night.
Sometimes you will hear people talk about how you need to find a certain constellation during a meteor shower as it appears the meteors originate from there.
While it’s true that the Perseid Meteor Shower appears to originate from the constellation Perseus, you should be able to look anywhere in the sky and see them.
The meteors from the Perseid Meteor Shower actually originate from the Swift-Tuttle Comet.
Every year from the middle of July through the end of August, the Earth passes through the path and ensuing debris field of the Swift-Tuttle Comet.
The debris from this comet enters Earth’s atmosphere at 130,000 miles per hour, creating the quick streaks of light that is the Perseid Meteor Shower.
The Earth travels through the thickest part of the debris field in early August (so, right now!) resulting in the meteor shower’s peak.
If you find yourself concerned about Earth going through the debris field of a comet: don’t! As the Earth travels in its orbit around the Sun, we go through the debris fields of multiple comets, multiple times a year.
If you’re thinking “that’s a lot of comet debris entering our atmosphere,” it’s important to remember, most meteors are only the size of Grape Nuts cereal to begin with, and more often than not, burn up before reaching the ground. Happy stargazing!
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