The Perseid meteor shower is upon us, and it will fill the night sky with streaks of light and color until August 24.
The meteor shower is the result of Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle leaving a trail of fragments like breadcrumbs the whole length of its century-plus-long orbit, and when Earth passes through that orbit each August, a few of those trillions of chunks burn up in our atmosphere, producing a spectacular show, noted for having more brightly-colored fireballs than other meteor showers like the Leonids of November or the Geminids of December.
Because of how Earth passes through the comet’s wake, the main source of the meteors seems to be the constellation Perseus, and the best time for viewing is after midnight, especially between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m.
If you want to get a really good view of this year’s meteors, there are a few things you can do to improve the experience.
Find a darkened place. The lights of “society” will mute the lights of meteors. Getting out of town is good, but even a rooftop or a fenced back yard is enough to make a difference. You will have an advantage, that the Moon is a waning crescent, so its light won’t wash out meteors.
Patiently give your eyes time to adjust, and avoid any artificial light, even a second or two with a cigarette lighter or a phone screen will disrupt your sight.
Cast your eyes about halfway up the sky, looking northeast. Look online to find the “landmarks” in the sky that will allow you to spot Perseus.
Obviously, the sky needs to be clear. If it’s overcast, you’ll have to come back in an hour, or maybe the next night. Check the forecast and see what it looks like.
Remember that while meteors peak after 2:00 in the morning, they can be seen as early as 10:00 p.m., and will still be visible until dawn.