Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The most spectacular meteor shower of the year peaks this week — here's how to watch


Dave Mosher

  • The Perseid meteor shower occurs each year in late summer.
  • This year, the astronomical event peaks on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
  • A bright moon will make seeing the meteors more challenging, but NASA says stargazers can expect to see one every couple of minutes.

Some websites have claimed that there will be more visible meteors per minute this year than at any other time in nearly a century, but experts say this is hogwash.

"This year, we are expecting enhanced rates of about 150 per hour or so, but the increased number will be cancelled out by the bright moon, the light of which will wash out the fainter Perseids," Bill Cooke, who leads NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, wrote in a blog post on Thursday. "A meteor every couple of minutes is good, and certainly worth going outside to look, but it is hardly the 'brightest shower in human history.'"

This year's conditions will be challenging for two reasons.

First, there'll be a waning gibbous moon — the full moon will have just ended, but it will still be full and bright.

Second, the moon will rise in the evening and set near dawn. Normally the best time to watch for meteors is after the moon sets. TimeAndDate.com has a convenient moonrise and moonset tool to find out when that will happen in your location. In New York, for example, the moon will set at around 6:44 a.m. on Tuesday.

Given this year's conditions, the best time to head outside is between midnight and dawn. The closer to dawn the better — though twilight begins to eat up the dark sky a couple of hours before the sun rises.

You won't need any telescopes or fancy equipment to see the meteors — just clear skies, your eyes, and a bit of patience. Find a dark, remote spot away from the light pollution of nearby towns and cities, make yourself comfortable, and set aside a good chunk of time to enjoy the show.


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