The Perseid dishes are one of the best and brightest, and it feels like we could use them now more than ever to add a little wonder and distraction in some pretty gloomy times.
This famous shower comes around this time every year when the earth passes through a cloud of debris left by the giant comet 109P / Swift-Tuttle. Dust pieces, rocks and other cosmic detritus melt into our atmosphere and burn up to short, bright streaks and even occasional full-blown fireballs that streak across the night sky.
See Perseid meteor shower make a sky scene all over the world
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In 2020, the Perseid level is expected to peak on 11 and 12 August, when the moon will be a little less than half full.
The popularity of the shower is a combination of the fact that it is one of the strongest, with up to 100 visible meteors per hour on average, and it coincides with hot summer nights in the northern hemisphere. The waning moon will probably wash out many otherwise visible meteors, but that still leaves a lot that should be easy to see if you plan a little.
In general, a good strategy is to go out to look for the Persians as late in the evening as possible, but still before the moonrise in your place. So in New York, for example, you would want to be as far away from all that light pollution as possible around 11pm on Tuesday night (peak night) because the moon will rise about an hour later at 12:08 pm on Wednesday. (You can find Sunset and Moonrise for your location with a site like TimeandDate.com.)
You can also try to block the moon by placing yourself next to a building, tree or something else that keeps some of that moonlight out of your retinas.
The moon will begin to disappear completely after the middle of the month, and although the Perseids will pass their maximum weight, they will still be active and visible. This shower on the half top with completely dark skies can be about the same as a full top with a bright moon, so do not you think must go out on the top night to catch it.
Once you have decided on the perfect time and a place with minimal light disturbance and a wide view of the sky, just sit back, let your eyes adjust and relax. Pillows, blankets, sun loungers and refreshments make the perfect experience. It can take about 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, so be sure to be patient. If you follow all my advice, you are guaranteed to see a meteor.
It does not matter where in the sky you see, as long as you have a wide view. That said, the Persians seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus, the hero. If you want to practice being an advanced meteor spotter, find Perseus and try to focus there while you watch. Then just try to look up without focusing anywhere. See if you notice a difference. We are still dealing with the unpredictability of nature, so the results will vary.
It’s probably the best part of Perseid’s every year the wonderful photos we get from talented astrophotographers who spend long nights out.
As always, if you catch any beauties yourself, please share them with me on Twitter or Instagram @EricCMack.