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Perseid Meteor Shower this Weekend
by Aaron Turner - Tuesday, 7 August 2018, 7:36 PM
 

The best (maybe second best) meteor shower of the year occurs this weekend - the Perseids.  This year the astronomical conditions are nearly perfect - no moon will be visible throughout the night.  The only wildcard is the weather.  Right now the forecast is all about scattered thunderstorm for both Saturday and Sunday, but depending on the nature of those storms, there very well may be clear skies at night.  And, of course, its rather early to be certain about the weekend forecast.

The Perseid meteor shower typically produces a rate of about one meteor per minute, though that gets reduced if your sky isn't fully visible or completely dark.  In my experience, with no moon and a clear sky, I expect about 1 meteor every 3-5 minutes from my (tree-surrounded) yard.  I almost always watch this shower if the sky isn't completely cloudy, though I am (as most of you know) not your average observer.  To be honest, I like the fact that in order to see a meteor shower, you need to be doing NOTHING AT ALL other than staring at the sky quietly.  Since my kids and wife have been through this many, many times with me, I get about 30 minutes of their time at most, and the rest is just me, a reclining chair, and the sky.  

The best night for this shower is Sunday into Monday, but Saturday night is almost as good.  Given the weather forecast, go out Saturday if it is close to clear.  The shower, like most meteor showers, reaches its peak at about 3am, but I hardly ever go that late.  I start around 10pm.  Face northeast, lean back in a chair, or lay on the ground, and just stare.  The early meteors that you will see starting as early as 8:30 or so can be "grazers", meaning they come in to the Earths atmosphere at a very shallow angle, and create streaks that can go from horizon to horizon.  The average rate will steadily increase (though you can go many minutes between individual meteors - this is a random process, and the 3-5 minutes I quoted was only an average).  The longer you stay out (assuming you stay awake and keep still) the more you will see.  By 11 the grazers have had their day, and the real shower will dominate.

You need no equipment to observe a meteor shower, other than your eyes, and those need not be in perfect condition either.

Hope you can get out to see this!