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Prepare for Perseids!

Are you ready for the Perseids? Perhaps you’ve already seen some of them streaking across the summer skies! This shower, part of the debris stream of comet Swift-Tuttle, actually starts in mid to late July and extends for most of August. However, while there will only be a few meteors each hour most of those nights (if you are lucky!), the peak time for viewing the shower brings many, many more. How much more? The number actually varies every year; there can be as little as a few dozen per hour, but some rare years bring a brief  “burst’ of up to two hundred beautiful “shooting stars” per hour.

This year’s Perseids (2017) will be a bit washed out this year by the light from a waning moon; its light may obscure some of the dimmer meteors. However, you should still be able to see quite a few! How many? There’s only one way to find out for yourself how strong the Perseids will be this year; stay up and watch!

Map of the radiant (of origin) or the Perseid Meteor Shower

Map of Perseid radiant courtesy NASA Science News

If you trace the meteor trails of the Perseids back to their source, you will find they seem to come from a spot near the constellation Perseus – hence their name, and the name of most meteor showers.

We have a few tips on how to make the most of your meteor shower viewing experience:
  • Get out of the city!  Try to get to the darkest location you can. The darker it is where you are, the more meteors you will see streaking across the sky.
  • Check the weather forecast for that night. You may need to check out two or three areas for predictions on fog, clouds, and temperature. Some weather sites even offer forecasts specially tailored for sky watching. Make sure you have clear skies to go along with those dark ones.
  • Find a meteor shower party! Go to a gathering of like-minded folks in a local park, or an event hosted by a local astronomy club – especially if it’s your first time! Find a Perseids party by searching the Night Sky Network for clubs near you, or by searching for events near you
  • Stay warm and comfortable outside-be prepared! You will be out for a good long while and will want to lie flat on your back to soak up as much of the sky as possible. To stay cozy bring a blanket, jacket, hat, a warm drink, and water. You may think it’s silly to bring some warm clothes in the middle of the summer, but late at night, the temperature can drop just enough to be chilly.  If you are in a buggy area, you will definitely want to apply some bug spray to avoid irritating bites
  • Bring your friends and family! The company under starry skies is truly wonderful, and they provide a bonus since there are more eyes on the sky! Groups can spot more meteors than single individuals and help each other find ‘hot spots” in the sky. (Also- if you are out in the wilderness in the dark, the good company helps you feel safer.)

We have a handout you can use at your star parties and outreach events (or even for yourself). You can find it on our Heads up! It’s a Meteor Shower resource page.

For more information on one of our favorite meteor showers, check out NASA’s excellent writeup, this video on, and EarthSky’s great guide. You should also check out the August 2016 “What’s Up? video from JPL as Jane Houston Jones gives out great tips on how to watch the Perseids as well as other objects to look for in the night skies while you wait for brilliant little streaks to cross your field of view. You can also use the handy “Fluximator” meteor shower activity application to try to predict when the peak activity will be for your location.

Have fun and may you have clear skies and great weather for your meteor shower party!

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