Updated: Jul 31, 2021
The Perseids meteor shower is on! Get a plan to get outside and start watching the shower! This guide will tell you what you need and how to make a plan to see the shower on your own! If you want to skip the planning just book a tour to see the shower and more up close in a telescope with me.
Plan = when?, where?, & how?
#1 - when?
Any day from Aug ~7th to the ~15th with ~11pm - ~3am any of those nights being a good time.
#2 - where?
Either just try your backyard or using this map find the darkest place that you can get to safely and legally: https://www.lightpollutionmap.info/#zoom=4.00&lat=39.1997&lon=-97.2914&layers=B0TFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF
Check the weather for temperature and cloud cover here: weather.gov
#3 - how?
The best way to increase your chances to view any meteor shower is to: 1) turn off all lights and let your eyes adjust to the dark for 20min. 2) lay on your back under the night sky to maximize the amount of your field of view taken up by the sky. I recommend heading to a public park with a picnic blanket and lay out on your blanket in the middle of a light-less grassy field.
What you need to bring:
Something to lay down on (picnic blanket, trampoline, hammock, sleeping pad, rug, air mattress, etc.)
Warm clothes for falling temperatures
A sky map app on your smartphone
Meteor showers are caused by the Earth traveling through a part of its orbit that has lots of debris left behind from a commit. As the Earth travels through this debris, the debris causes “falling stars” “shooting stars” or more correctly “meteors”. Small meteors (about the size of a grain of sand) are responsible for most of the shooting stars we see. These small meteors are moving extremely fast when the earth hits them ripping electrons off air molecules in the upper atmosphere, making them light up “electrifying” the air. I feel like this is what makes them so electrifying to watch!
The shower will “peak” in early August with the night of the 11th or early morning of the 12th technically being the “peak”. However, I wouldn't focus on the day it “peaks” too much as that’s just the day we will be in the middle of the debris field meaning you’ll see plenty of shooting stars before and after the ”peak”. The Perseids are a really big shower, I’ve been seeing plenty of shooting stars now even in late July. Any day from Aug ~7th to the ~15th should be really good to view the shower.
No matter the night it’s better to see meteor showers later in the night or in the wee hours of the morning ~11p to ~3p with ~2p usually being ideal. Because this is when the Earth has turned you to look more in the direction it is traveling around the sun. If you imagine the Earth as a spaceship orbiting the sun when you look up in the sky in the early evening it’s like looking out a side window, and when you look at the sky in the around midnight it’s like looking out the pilot's front window. If you’re not one to stay up late I recommend checking it out before the “peak” because this will get you a better early evening view. With a new moon on the 8th means the moon won't subtract with it's natural light pollution and you'll be able to see fainter shooting stars in the early evening (~9:30p) on the 8th than during the “peak” on the 11th. So, if you’re not up for staying up so late I would actually recommend seeing it before the “peak”.
Location can have a huge impact on how many shooting stars you will see as well. You want a very dark open area. I recommend using this mapping tool to find the best spot near you: https://www.lightpollutionmap.info/#zoom=4.00&lat=39.1997&lon=-97.2914&layers=B0TFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF
I’m always impressed with places like Cherry Creek State Park or the Rocky Mountain arsenal for being so dark yet ~15 minutes away from some of the brightest areas in Colorado. Then there's places that are very dark like Nederland that's less than 1 hr from the brightest areas in the state. It’s all about finding that balance. You’ll still see the brightest falling stars in your backyard, the darker the better but don’t let it be a barrier to seeing the shower.
You want a clear area so when you lay down and look up you only see the night sky. trees/hills are nice to block out some of the surrounding light pollution but you don’t want them to block your view of the night sky and miss out on shooting stars behind them. Defiantly check the weather as well, you're not going to see any shooting stars if its cloudy. Weather.gov
Laying down under the night sky is the biggest cheat code to seeing more shooting stars. This shower is the “Perseids” meaning that the shooting stars will appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus in the North-West sky. however, you will be able to see them all over the sky! Laying down so you can see the maximum amount of sky at one time is the best way to maximize your chances of seeing a shooting star. I recommend picnic blankets, trampolines, hammocks, sleeping mats, a rug, air mattress, anything that will let you lay out under the stars for a good amount of time in comfort.
You want to lay out in complete darkness (no phones, no lights) for at least 30 mins. It will take your eyes about 20min to adjust to the dark to start seeing dimmer shooting stars. You should be able to see 50 to 75 shooting stars per hr for this shower. If you just look for ~10 min after your eyes have adjusted you will be able to see ~10 meteors and get ~10 wishes!
With that you should be more than prepared to view the meteor shower this August! Here’s a small list of other bonus things to see if you can spot while you’re out there:
The big dipper in the north west sky
The Moon - you will see a crescent moon in the West just after sunset the nights immediately around the “peak” (Aug 10th - 15th)
Venus - it will be the first “star” you can see after sunset low in the Western sky
Saturn - Saturn will be low in the Eastern sky just after sunset and rising high in the southern sky ~1a. Saturn will be at 'opposition' (basically closest it'll be to Earth) on Aug the 2nd (I also wouldn't focus on the exact date so much as we'll have good late views of Saturn all of August and beyond) Saturn will be spectacular in some binoculars or a telescope.
Jupiter - Jupiter will not appear till well after sunset but should be low in the Western sky around 11p it will be super bright and hard to miss. You will be able to see up to four of Jupiter’s moons in a pair of binoculars or a telescope
The milky way - if you’re in a dark enough area you won’t be able to miss it high in the Eastern sky ~11p
Use a star app on your phone to identify other stars / constellations. This is a fun thing to play with but every time you look at your phone remember you are losing your night vision, making it harder to see dimmer shooting stars. Turn down your screen brightness and be courteous of others not to shine light in their eyes.
If you want to see all this and more in a telescope book an astronomy tour here: Astrotours.org/booking