Marsha Kirschbaum used 27 photos – all captured on a single night, August 12 – to create this composite of the 2016 Perseid meteor shower.
Tonight – August 9, 2018 – it’s time to start watching the Perseid meteor shower, which should be at its best this weekend. Fortunately, the new moon on August 10, 2018, guarantees dark nights for this year’s Perseid meteor shower. The Perseid meteors tend to be bright, and the brighter ones can even be seen in a light-polluted sky. Which dates are best? We anticipate on the mornings of August 12 and 13, but try the next few mornings (August 10 and 11), too.
1. Try observing in the evening hours, on the nights of August 10, 11 or 12. You won’t see as many meteors during the evening hours, but you still might catch an earthgrazer, which is a slow-moving and looong-lasting meteor that travels horizontally across the sky. If you see one, you’ll have a new appreciation for evening meteor-watching.
2. Or … watch between midnight and dawn. Most meteor showers are best after midnight, and the Perseids are no exception. After midnight, the part of Earth you’re standing on has turned into the meteor stream, which means the radiant point for the shower will be above your horizon. After the radiant rises, more meteors are flying … fortunately, in 2018, in a moonless sky.
3. Make yourself comfortable. Sprawl out upon a reclining lawn chair, with an open view of sky. Bring along a blanket or sleeping bag. Your eyes can take as long as 20 minutes to adapt to the dark, so give yourself at least an hour of observation time.
4. Avoid city lights. This should go without saying, but just a reminder. A wide open area – a field or a lonely country road – is best if you’re serious about watching meteors.
5. Watch with friend or friends, and try facing in different directions so that if someone sees a meteor, that person can call out – “meteor!” – to the rest.
6. Notice the speed and colors, if any, of the meteors. The Perseids are known to be colorful, although the moonlight will drown out their color in 2017. But it won’t affect their speed! The Perseids are swift-moving, entering Earth’s atmosphere at about 35 miles per second (60 km per second).
7. Watch for meteor trains. A meteor train is a persistent glow in the air, left by some meteors after they have faded from view. Trains are caused by luminous ionized matter left in the wake of this incoming space debris. A good percentage of Perseids are known to leave persistent trains. They linger for a moment or two after the meteor has gone. Again, hard to see in the moonlight, but watch for them!
8. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere … watch! At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, the radiant of the Perseid meteor shower never gets very high in the sky. Therefore, the number of Perseid meteors seen from this part of the world isn’t as great as at more northerly latitudes. But if you’re game, look northward in the wee hours before dawn on August 11, 12 and 13, and you might still see a decent display of Perseids.
9. At the end of the Perseid shower, look for Venus. As dawn breaks, a bright planet will be ascending in the east before dawn. That’ll be Venus, third-brightest object in Earth’s sky after the sun and moon.
10. Embrace the night. We hear people bubble with excitement about seeing meteors in all sorts of conditions – moon or no moon – city lights or no city lights. The Perseids, in particular, tend to have a lot of fireballs. And so, camp out and make a night of it!