If you’re like me, you have fond memories of waking up in the early hours to watch meteor showers as a child. In our increasingly digital world, there’s something special about sitting out in the wee hours when everyone is asleep and watching a silently beautiful natural phenomena. The Perseid meteor shower, one of the classic stargazing events of the Northern Hemisphere, is coming up.
The meteor shower is actually caused by the Earth passing through the debris left in the wake of the Swift-Tuttle Comet. As the particles fall into the Earth’s gravitational field and plummet toward our planet, the friction from our atmosphere causes them to burn up, creating quite a show.
As many as 60 to 100 “shooting stars” per hour will be visible to naked eye over Britain and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere, although some will be observable a bit south of the equator. The meteor shower is set to peak in the early morning hours of August 11 through the 13. During these days, there will be no moon to obscure the meteors.
The best way to see the showers is to find a sky as wide as possible, obscured by few buildings, trees or objects. The showers are best seen between midnight and dawn, this is when the part of Earth you’re on is facing into the meteor shower. However, if you want to take your chances looking for an “Earth grazer” meteor – a long, slow meteor shooting horizontally across the sky – try before midnight.
Find a dark place to watch the shower too – the darker the sky, the more meteors are visible; it doesn’t help to watch a sky so full of light pollution that no meteors can be seen. If you miss the peak days, remember that showers such as the Perseids can last for weeks, you can see some from late July to days after the 13.
Wherever you are, it’s always nice to pull out a lawn chair and sit with a hot thermos of coffee, tea or cocoa and watch the showers with someone special. The Perseids only come around once a year.