The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12, 2013. Viewing tips:
1. What you’re seeing. Although meteors are sometimes called “shooting stars,” they are not stars. Instead they are bits of cosmic debris interacting with Earth’s atmosphere and creating a streak of light. In the case of the Perseid meteors, the debris has been shed by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.
2. Why the Perseids are called that. Trace the streaks of light back to where they started, and (assuming they were Perseids and not other types of meteors) you’ll find they appear to have radiated away from a point in the direction of the constellation Perseus.
3. When to look. The best nights to see the 2013 Perseid meteor shower will likely be the nights of August 11-12 and August 12-13. Check the forecast, and pick the clearer night.
If you want to see the most Perseids, go outside between 4 and 5 a.m. on Monday morning, August 12, 2013 (unless skies are overcast – in that case, sleep in). From a clear dark site you may see an average of up to one Perseid per minute. Because of light pollution, urban stargazers should expect to see fewer.
Did you wince in pain when you read that phrase “between 4 and 5 a.m.”? There are other options! You can also try going out after midnight on the mornings of August 12 and 13. Or you could even try as soon as it gets dark on August 11 and 12. But the later you go out, the more meteors you will see.
4. Where to go. Find a dark site away from unshielded lights; you’ll miss dimmer meteors if you are near badly designed lights that spray light up into the sky. You also want a reasonably open view of the sky, unobstructed by buildings or trees.
5. What direction to look. Look towards the darkest available direction, about halfway up the sky. You do not need to know how to identify the constellation Perseus to see the Perseids. The meteors can appear in any part of the sky.
6. What to bring. Your neck will thank you if you take a reclining chair or sleeping bag to lie on. That sleeping bag, or a blanket, will also help you stay warm. Lying outside in the dark can get chillier than you might think, even in summertime.
7. What to do. Look up at the sky! This might seem obvious, but people frequently miss meteors because they were looking at their friends, their phones, or the ground.
8. What not to do. Be sure to avoid white light (such as from cellphones or flashlights), and don’t give up too soon on your meteor watching. Your eyes need time to adjust to the dark to allow you to see the most meteors.
Now let’s hope we get some clear skies.
If you’re willing to do the 4-5 a.m. thing, you get a bonus: Jupiter and Mars low in the east-northeast.