Viewer’s Guide to August Meteors

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Photo by Wally Pacholka
This Perseid meteor, photographed from Joshua Tree National Park, flashes through Orion’s belt.

Every August, astronomy buffs are rewarded with the famous Perseid meteor showers, caused when Earth passes through the tail of the ancient Swift-Tuttle comet. When these specks of dust hit Earth’s atmosphere–at roughly 133,200 miles per hour–they burn up, resulting in “shooting stars” that streak across the sky.

This year’s Perseid showers appear from about July 23 to August 22 with a peak around August 12 and 13. Unfortunately, peak coincides with a nearly full moon, so your view may be obscured.

Here are some tips to optimize your viewing of these celestial phenomena–on a dark night, you may see about one meteor per minute.

1. Find a spot as far away from city lights as possible. The darker the sky, the brighter the stars.

2. Choose a night without a moon when possible.

3. Set your alarm for 2 a.m., when Perseid activity accelerates. During pre-dawn hours, the Northern Hemisphere is heading right into the comet debris stream, so that’s when the most meteors blaze.

4. Lie down on a blanket or a reclining lawn chair so you can see the sky without craning your neck.

5. If there’s a moon shining, face away from it toward darker sky.

6. Relax, wait for your eyes to adjust to the dark, and enjoy the show!


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