The month of August is the best time to keep looking up, in part because one of the best meteor showers of the year is on its way. Learning how to watch the Perseid meteor shower will give you and your family an amazing glimpse into one of the galaxy's coolest light shows. Whether you get to enjoy it in real life or through a streaming service, watching this astronomical event is an incredible experience.
Famed for its bright meteors, the Perseid meteor shower peaks in mid-August, as noted by NASA. Every year the Earth passes through a trail of space debris left over from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, and these comet particles break down in the atmosphere in bright, colorful streaks, as further noted by NASA. Fast and bright, these meteors can leave stunning wakes of light in the night sky. And during the 2018 Perseid meteor shower's peak, which occurs the mornings of August 11 to 13, there won't be any distracting light from the moon to get in the way, either, as noted by EarthSky. The dark sky means these meteors will put on a stellar show, so this is a perfect year to enjoy the shower.
Getting the most out of your Perseid meteor shower will take a little preparation, but it's well worth the effort. First, you need to "take in as much sky as possible," as NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke said in Space.com. Leave behind the city lights for a more suburban or rural area in order to have the best viewing experience. You want dark sky and lots of it with as little manmade light nearby as possible. For a little help, use the Dark Site Finder to locate an area with low or no light pollution nearby.
Next, give your eyes plenty of time to adjust to the darkness. Although your pupils with dilate to let more light in quickly, it takes your retina's light detectors 30 minutes or longer to fully adjust to darkness, as Dr. Daniel Glaser, director of Science Gallery at King's College London, explained in The Guardian. This means no bright phone screens or other light sources. Just look up at the dark sky during this time, and you'll steadily be able to see more and more stars. Hopefully a few meteors will start showing up as well.
Choosing the right time of night is important, too. For people in the Northern Hemisphere, the Perseids are best viewed in the pre-dawn hours, as noted by NASA. If you don't feel like getting up before the sun, take heart. Some of the meteors from this shower are visible much earlier, starting around 10:00pm, as further explained by NASA. If at all possible, though, give yourself several minutes or even hours to totally take in the sight of this annual shower. It's something you'll never forget.
Also, bring a comfy picnic blanket or lounge chair as well. You don't want a sore neck from looking up at the sky all night, so lay back and relax while stargazing if you can. (Just please be safe in your dark, remote location.) A pair of binoculars and a thermos of your favorite beverage can make the whole experience even more magical.
Of course, not everyone has a chance to watch the Perseid meteor shower in person. City lights, work hours, and sky-blocking cloud formations can all make watching the meteors difficult if not impossible. Thankfully, technology can help you check out this awesome astronomical event anyway. In fact, the Virtual Telescope Project in Italy will stream the Perseid meteor shower live online starting August 12, 20:30 UTC (or 12:30 am EDT). Whether you watch it on a screen or in person, this year's Perseid meteor shower is certain to be an amazing show.