Viewing the Perseid meteors: “I have to go out WHEN?”
Posted August 7, 2008
Hi, this is Amy. I’m making a blog post while Jesse prepares for talking about the annual Perseid meteor shower on WRAL this Saturday.
The Perseid meteors will peak the morning of August 12th. Every year before this and other major meteor showers, phone calls roll in to Morehead Planetarium with questions about viewing meteors (also known as shooting stars).
According to planetarium legend, years ago a caller demanded to know why we had scheduled a meteor shower for the pre-dawn hours. So inconvenient! And on top of that, didn't we know that it was a school night?!
This year, that caller would surely be upset with us again. The best time to see the 2008 Perseids will be from 2 to 5 a.m. on Tuesday, August 12th. You can also try the pre-dawn hours on the days before and after.
Before 2 a.m., light from the waxing gibbous Moon will wash out the dimmer meteors. And after 5 a.m., the sky brightens as we rotate toward daytime.
If the weather cooperates (we don’t control that either), the single best hour for seeing the highest number of meteors should be between 4 and 5 a.m. on August 12. Oof.
Even though Morehead isn’t holding a special Perseid skywatching session this year (can you blame us?), you can still go out on your own, of course. Take a folding lawn chair or sleeping bag to a spot away from city lights, or at least not in direct view of unshielded outdoor lights. Then just look up. It doesn’t matter much which direction.
If your skies are dark with little or no pollution from artificial outdoor lighting, you may see up to 75 Perseid meteors per hour streak through the sky at the peak viewing time of 4-5 a.m. on Tuesday morning the 12th. Urban stargazers can expect to see closer to 25. However, any humidity and haze will hide fainter meteors.
If arising at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday is not your cup of tea, join us in our star theater for Carolina Skies. This program is held at the more convenient time of 8 pm on the non-school nights of Friday and Saturday. Simply request a meteor shower, and with the push of a button, your presenter can make shooting stars streak across the planetarium’s artificial sky.
Then join us to see the real sky at our next skywatching session at Jordan’s Lake Ebenezer Church Recreation Area on Saturday, September 6, from 7:30-9:30 pm. Venus, Mercury, and Mars will form a lovely close grouping low in the west. We’ll also view Jupiter and the Moon-- and maybe even some meteors. More information and directions are here.
To learn more about meteor showers and what causes them, check out Jesse’s previous blog post. Or see the website of the American Meteor Society.