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Top tips for 2017’s Perseid meteor shower

Tonight – August 10, 2017 – it’s time to start watching the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks this weekend. Unfortunately, the waning gibbous moon is in the way during the predawn hours, when the meteors are normally flying most abundantly! But these meteors tend to be bright, so the brighter Perseids may well overcome the moonlit glare Which dates are best? We anticipate on the mornings of August 12 and 13. The tips below can help you enjoy.

1. Watch between midnight and dawn.

2. Avoid city lights.

3. Watch with friend or friends.

4. Try observing in the evening hours.

5. Sprawl out in a moon shadow.

6. Notice the speed and colors of the meteors.

7. Watch for meteor trains.

8. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere … watch!

9. At the end of the Perseid shower, look for Venus.

10. Prepare for next year’s Perseid shower.

Kelly Dreller in Lake Havasu City, Arizona caught this meteor in late July.

Kelly Dreller in Lake Havasu City, Arizona caught this meteor in late July.

Want more about the outburst? Click here.

Meteor and star trails, by Vic Winter.

Meteor and star trails, by Vic Winter.

1. 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. That means the radiant point for the shower will be above your horizon. The chart at the top of this point shows the radiant for the Perseids. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s up in the northeast around late evening. After the radiant rises, you’ll see more meteors. But this year, the waning gibbous moon also rises at late night, intruding on the peak hours of the Perseid shower. But sprawl out in a moon shadow to maximize your viewing pleasure of this year’s Perseid shower.

2. Avoid city lights. A wide open area – a field or a lonely country road – is best if you’re serious about watching meteors.

3. 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.

4. Try observing in the evening hours. You won’t see as many meteors during the evening hours, but the moon will be absent during the evening hours. So you might catch an earthgrazer, which is a slow-moving and long-lasting meteor that travels horizontally across the sky. If you see one, you’ll have a new appreciation for evening meteor watching.

5. Sprawl out in a moon shadow. Be aware that – in years when the moon is interfering with the shower – you can sprawl out in the moon’s shadow to get a better view. In 2017, for instance, the waning gibbous moon will interfere with this year’s meteor shower, starting at late evening. When it’s first above the horizon, the moon will cast looooong shadows. Find a moon shadow somewhere that still provides a wide expanse of sky, to vastly improve your view of the meteor shower. A plateau area with high-standing mountains to block out the moon works just fine. If you can’t do that, find a hedgerow of trees bordering a wide open field somewhere (though obtain permission, if it’s private land). Or simply sit in the shadow of a barn or other building. Ensconced within a moon shadow, and far from the glow of city lights, the night all of a sudden darkens while the meteors brighten.

David S. Brown caught this meteor on July 30, 2014.

David S. Brown caught this meteor in 2014.

6. Notice the speed and colors of the meteors. The Perseids are known to be colorful, and they 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. 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 darkness falls, before the first Perseids even begin to light up the nighttime, Use the moon to locate the planets Mars and Saturn. See the sky chart below.

Prepare for next year’s Perseid shower. Next year, in 2018, the new moon will fall on August 11, 2018. That means moon-free, inky dark skies for the peak date of next year’s Perseid meteor shower. Start planning now!

Bottom line: With the moon intruding on the predawn hours, the year 2017 is not as favorable as it could be for watching the annual Perseid meteor shower. Here are some tips for watching the 2017 Perseid shower. We recommend watching all three mornings around the peak – August 11, 12 and 13.

When is the next meteor shower? Click here for EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2016

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Bruce McClure

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