The Best Meteor Shower of the Year Peaks Tonight. Here's How to Watch It.
After only minor shows so far this summer, the best meteor shower of the year is here. The Perseid meteor shower, which can feature more than 100 meteors per hour at its best, will peak the night of Monday, August 12. The shower will be a good news/bad news situation for stargazers this year. The good news is that the shower lands in August, when you shouldn't really need an excuse to spend some time outside. The bad news is that the Perseids will not be quite as spectacular as it is in most other years.
The shower is known for putting on a striking show. Its fast and bright meteors often leave a long "wake" of light and color behind them as they streak across the sky. NASA notes the shower is also known to produce fireballs, which are larger and brighter than your average meteor streak.
However, on the night of August 12, we'll have a waxing gibbous moon. The nearly full moon will wash out fainter meteors, but the fireballs and brighter streaks will still be visible, Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist. But don't worry: Peak night of the Perseids is sure to be a dazzling display. Here's what you need to know to enjoy it.
When is the peak time of the Perseid meteor shower?
The Perseid meteor shower is active through late August, but the shower's peak is visible the night of August 12 into the early morning hours of August 13. The best time to get out and view the Perseids during the peak is between 2am and dawn (local time) in the Northern Hemisphere. However, you should be able to start spotting meteors as early as 9-10pm. As NASA's Cooke explains, there should be a fair number of meteors visible on nights surrounding the peak, especially on the night of Sunday, August 11, because there will be less interference from the moon.
In other words, you have a few good shots to catch the best of the meteor shower through early this week. By all means venture into the darkness on multiple nights to catch as many of the stunning fireballs as you can. This is the last great meteor shower of the summer, after all.
How to Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower
To see as many meteors as possible, get away from the bright lights of urban centers and head toward dark skies. Once you've found a good spot under the stars, it takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, so be sure to factor that extra chunk of time into your plans. Oh, and try not to look at your phone or other bright screens while you let your eyes adjust to the darkness. This is a great time to get comfortable, get your favorite stargazing snacks ready, and sit back in the grass to see as much of the sky as possible.
Hopefully, you've got a clear sky overhead, because crappy weather is going to ruin everything. Be sure to check out your local forecast (or the one for wherever you're traveling to see the meteor shower) before you get your hopes up and set out into the night. Most of the continental United States will be blessed with "good" to "fair" overnight sky conditions during the peak, especially in the Southwest and along the West Coast, according to a helpful forecast map from AccuWeather (shown below). However, northern areas of the Midwest through parts of the Northeast will have less-than-ideal meteor viewing conditions.
You'll also want to find a place to watch with few obstructions along the horizon, like buildings or trees that could obscure your view of the night sky. Don't bother dusting off your binoculars or a telescope for the meteor shower, as they aren't recommended for meteor viewing. They actually limit your view by focusing on a small portion of the sky, which only serves to limit the number of meteors you'll see. All you need to see the meteors are your eyes.
What's the best direction to look in?
As NASA explains, meteors can be seen all across the starry heavens, so you don't have to keep your eyes on a certain part of the sky or look in a certain direction to see the display.
The radiant -- where the meteors appear to originate in the sky -- for the Perseids is the constellation Perseus (see the arrows in the above map), hence the shower's name. For the best viewing experience, locate the constellation, but don't look directly at it. The meteors will appear to be moving away from the radiant, streaking all over the sky. Again, the more sky you can see, the better.
Where to Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower
You can watch the gorgeous display from just about anywhere. All you need is a clear sky that’s far away from the light pollution of the city and a spot where trees and other objects aren’t obstructing your view of the heavens. But if you don’t have, say, a sufficiently dark backyard patio, there are all sorts of public viewing parties taking place all over the country -- some featuring experts to guide you through the meteor shower. Here’s are some of the events taking place across the US:
When: August 11 and 12
The Sedona Rouge Resort is hosting a two-night event called "Mars and Meteor Madness,” featuring a Dr. Sky-themed dinner as well as viewings of Mars and the meteor shower.
When: August 12, 7-10pm
The Canterbury Public Library is hosting an all-ages star party with games, popcorn, and ice cream.
When: August 12-14, 8:30pm-midnight
The Byron Forest Preserve's Weiskopf Observatory is hosting a free stargazing event. They recommend you bring lawn chairs or a blanket.
When: August 12, 11pm
The Gheens Science Hall & Rauch Planetarium is hosting a watch party.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
When: August 12, 10pm-2am
The Highland Road Park Observatory is hosting a meteor watch party. Officials request that all visitors come into the building for instructions before setting up chairs, blankets, etc. outside.
Carson City, Nevada
When: Night of August 12-13, midnight-2am
The Carson City Parks, Rec, and Open Space Department is hosting a free viewing party at Western Nevada College's Jack C. Davis Observatory. Wear closed-toed shoes for the hike.
Durham, North Carolina
When: August 12, 9-11pm
The Duke Teaching Observatory is hosting an open house, where you can hang out and check out the show.
Buxton & Corbett, Oregon
When: August 12, 9pm
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is hosting two star parties on Monday -- one at Rooster Rock State Park east of Portland and one will be held at L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park west of Portland.
When: August 12, 6:30pm
The Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh is hosting a Perseids watch party at the Mingo Creek County Park observatory. Night sky observation will start at about 8:45pm.
Davis, West Virginia
When: August 12 and 13, 9pm
Take in the Perseids at Black Water Falls State Park. The Nature Center will host Catch a Shooting Star with Paulita Cousin at 9pm. The naturalist will be around until midnight, and you can obtain a permit to stay longer if you'd like.
Ellison Bay, Wisconsin
When: August 12, 8:30-10pm
Hang out with guest astronomers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. They’re hosting a presentation and will share a closer view from a high-powered telescope at Newport State Park, the state’s only International Dark Sky Park.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
When: August 12, 10pm
Wyoming Stargazing is hosting an event focused on the Perseids. The group meets on the lawn next to the Center for the Arts and educators are on hand with a large aperture telescope and iPads that can show you details about the night sky. Tickets are on a sliding scale from $0-15.
How to Watch the Perseids Online
In case of bad weather, laziness, or other circumstance that might prevent you from seeing the Perseids, there are options to stream the celestial show online. The NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page will have a hosted live stream. Slooh.com will also broadcast a hosted live stream beginning at 9pm EST.
What else can you see?
In addition to the Perseids, you may be able to spot some meteors from July's Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower or the less active Alpha Capricornids and Kappa Cygnids.
The Aquariids peaked the night of July 29, but are still chugging along. You'll have a better chance of seeing these the closer you are to the equator. They're best seen from the Southern Hemisphere and less visible the further north you travel. If you're looking to spot some in addition to the Perseids, the radiant point is the constellation Aquarius.
Moreover, in the early hours of the night, you should be able to spot Saturn and Jupiter hanging out near the moon. This rare close encounter is taking place throughout the month. Jupiter's close approach to the moon will take place on August 9, while Saturn will appear right next to the moon the night of August 11. Both planets can be spotted clearly throughout the month, though. Of course, they're not really close to the moon. Millions and millions of miles separate them, but from the perspective on Earth, they'll be awfully close.