You can already see traces of the active Perseid meteor shower now, but an extra special treat is in the works for us Earthlings beginning tomorrow, when the annual light show will be most visible.
Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the Perseids will be at their peak, coinciding with a "new moon." That's the lunar phase when our moon is not visible from Earth. With no moonlight in the sky, viewers will have an unencumbered view of the show.
This meteor shower promises to be epic, so here's some background information and tips on where and how to get the best stargazing experience.
What is a meteor shower?
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says meteors — or shooting stars, as they're more commonly known — are "streaks of light [that are] really caused by tiny specks of comet-stuff hitting Earth's atmosphere at very high speed and disintegrating in flashes of light."
When a comet travels into the Earth's inner atmosphere, the sun's rays melt part of its frozen surface and release small pieces of dust. These dust particles look a lot like Grape Nut cereal, says Senior Research Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Donald Yeomans. "That's about the size of the meteor when it enters the Earth's atmosphere. It's about the same color and texture," Yeomans tells KPCC.
As JPL puts it, "A meteor shower is the entertaining end game of a comet's passage into the inner solar system."
Facts about the Perseid
According to NASA:
- Perseids' comet of origin is 109P/Swift-Tuttle
- The shower is active from July 13-Aug. 26, 2015
- It turns out up to 100 meteors per hour during the peak of its activity
- A Perseid meteor velocity is 37 miles per second
What time can I see the meteors?
Yeomans says the meteors will peak after midnight. "It'll peak probably in the early hours of the morning; three or four o'clock in the morning," says Yeomans. "But it's not a really sharp peak so you can be assured of seeing some meteors in the dark sky anywhere from one o'clock in the morning to just before dawn."
Tips for viewing
To get the best view JPL suggests getting as far away from urban lights and pollution as possible. A clear view of the night sky is key.
"Out in the desert would be great, a lot of people go up Angeles Crest Highway to get above most of the pollution," Yeomans says. "Anywhere that is dark and free of artificial lighting would be great."
Wherever you decide to watch — whether at a campsite or on your porch — look for the darkest spot in the sky. "Search for the darkest patch of sky you can find, as meteors can appear anywhere overhead," JPL says.
Before you grab any instruments, JPL also says you should forget the telescope and binoculars. "Using either reduces the amount of sky you can see at one time, lowering the odds that you'll see anything but darkness," according to the lab.
Yeomans suggests to dress warmly incase it gets cold in the early morning, have patience and have your eyes get used to the dark. "Get out there and let 20 minutes elapse so that your eyes can become dark adapted, so they can be more sensitive in the dark," Yeomans says.
"You should see one per minute if you are in the right location."
Tips for photographing
Put down that iPhone. It won't likely be able to catch a good image of the meteors. Still, if you're in a dark place and have DSLR camera at the ready, you get some pretty great shots of the shower.
So where's the best place to watch?
Try the following:
- The Integratron in Landers
- Perseid Meteor Shower Celebration 2015 at Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground
- Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve
- Borrego Springs
- Mt. Baldy
- Vasquez Rocks off the Route 14 near Santa Clarita
Angeles Crest Highway
- Amboy Crater in San Bernardino County
- The Mojave National Preserve's southern half
- NOT the Observatory. The Observatory is surrounded by a lot of urban light actually making it the wrong place to catch a meteor shower
How about some music?
Want to throw a stargazing party? Watching it with a friend? By yourself?
We suggest a little music to set the mood. Here's a list of songs put together by the BBC that viewers said are their favorite for stargazing: