(Photo Credit: Stellarium)
BY AMY SAYLE
The annual Perseid meteor shower is underway and is predicted to peak the night of August 12/13, 2018. That’s Sunday evening into very early Monday morning.
Here’s a checklist for getting the most out of your Perseids viewing this year:
1) Know what you’re looking for.
Meteors look like streaks of light in the sky. Although they are sometimes referred to as “shooting stars,” they are not stars. They are caused when small bits of debris in space hit our planet’s atmosphere and heat up.
The Perseid meteor shower happens around this time every year when Earth runs into debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle.
2) Pick a date and time for your viewing.
The Perseids are already happening. The peak night, when you can expect to see the most meteors (assuming cooperative weather), is predicted to be Sunday evening, August 12 into early Monday morning, August 13, 2018.
Some years, moonlight interferes with the peak date, by washing out the dimmer meteors from view. But not this year. On August 12, 2018, the moon will be a thin waxing crescent, meaning it won’t brighten up the sky and will set soon after the sun.
If you’re viewing earlier in the evening, you won’t see as many meteors overall, but you might get a special treat: seeing a long and slow Perseid “Earth grazer.”
If your goal is to see the most meteors, plan to view at a dark site and do it very early Monday morning, August 13, 2018, before the sky begins to brighten from the approaching sunrise. The Perseid meteor shower will produce roughly an average of a meteor per minute for those watching under a clear dark sky in the hours before dawn on that date.
3) Check the weather forecast.
If it’s going to be overcast or raining, don’t bother trying to view meteors. You might try the couple of nights before and after the peak night if your weather will be better then.
4) Choose your viewing location.
Find a safe dark place away from unshielded lights with an open view of the sky. If you plan to watch from your yard, you might invite the neighbors – and ask them to turn off their outside lights before they head over.
5) Gather your supplies.
To view meteors, you don’t need (or even want) special equipment like a telescope or binoculars. Just your eyes will do.
Consider bringing a blanket, sleeping bag, or reclining chair so you won’t have to crane your neck. Take an extra layer of clothing. Even in August, you might feel chilly when you’re outside for a while and not moving around.
6) Choose a direction to look.
Look toward the darkest part of your sky and away from unshielded lights. The Perseids are called that because they appear to radiate away from the direction of the constellation Perseus, which rises in the northeast and climbs higher over the night. But you don’t need to know how to find Perseus to see the meteors. They can appear in all portions of the sky.
7) Put bright devices away.
Resist the urge to use your phone, tablet, or other lighted devices. In addition to pulling your attention away from the sky, a bright screen interferes with your night vision, preventing you from seeing dimmer meteors when you do look back at the sky.
8) Plan on being outside a while.
It takes your eyes time to adjust to the dark, and meteors can come in clumps, so you might see none for minutes at a time.
Finally . . .
If you don’t mind some light pollution washing out the dimmer meteors, and if you DO want a nice big space to spread out where you also get to listen to music and see planets and other celestial wonders through a telescope, please join Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and the Raleigh Astronomy Club for a skywatching session at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh.
If the weather permits, we’ll be there from 9 to 11 p.m. on Sunday, August 12, 2018. Expect a lot of your fellow Earthlings to be there, too, and please carpool. This event is free, but you should register online. You can find the registration link at Morehead’s skywatching page: http://moreheadplanetarium.org/skywatching
There will be sky tours, storytelling about the night sky, and themed music from the Triangle Sax Ensemble. Morehead, the Raleigh Astronomy Club, and the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society will also bring telescopes for you to look through. Especially not to be missed are Saturn (see the rings) and Jupiter (see 4 of its 79 known moons) and Mars (still brighter than usual).
We hope to see you on the 12th!