Top 10 tips for watching 2018’s Perseid meteors

Marsha Kirschbaum used 27 photos – all captured on a single night – to create the composite image, above, of 2016’s Perseid meteor shower.

The 2018 Perseid meteor shower should be at its best this weekend, and people are already reporting meteors! This year, we’re in luck, as the new moon on August 11 guarantees dark nights. Perseid meteors tend to be bright; sometimes, brighter ones can even be seen in city or suburban skies. 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. The tips below can help you enjoy.

Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona captured this early Perseid on August 4, 2018. Nikon D810 camera and a 8 mm Sigma fisheye @ 15 sec, ISO 3200.

1. Try observing in the evening hours, on the nights of August 10, 11 or 12. You won’t see as many meteors in the evening as you will after midnight, but you still might catch an earthgrazer, which is a slow-moving and long-lasting meteor, traveling horizontally across your sky.

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.

If you trace the paths of the meteors backwards, they seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus. The radiant point of the Perseid meteor shower ascends in the northeast around midnight. Overhead-ish by dawn!

6. Notice the speed and colors, if any, of the meteors. The Perseids are known to be colorful. 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.

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 Orion. As dawn breaks, this bright constellation will be ascending in the east before dawn. Read more.

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!

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View larger. | Photo by Peter Greig in Bamburgh, England. Thank you Peter!

Bottom line: With no moonlight to ruin the show, the year 2018 is about as favorable as it can be for watching the annual Perseid meteor shower. Top 10 tips for watching the shower here.

When is the next meteor shower? Click here for EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2018

Looking for a dark area to observe from? Check out EarthSky’s interactive, worldwide Best Places to Stargaze map.

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Bruce McClure