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Viewing The Perseids Meteor Shower

On mid-summer nights, if you are somewhere with a very dark sky, and you have a little patience, you will start to see the streaks left behind by meteors as they end their deep space journeys in our atmosphere.

Starting around July 17, and ending around August 24, our planet sweeps through the debris that follows the orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle. This causes an increase in the number of meteors that are visible in the sky. How many meteors will be visible? You can never tell. In low years, you may see as few as 1 every 5 to 10 minutes. In high years you may see several per minute. It's all a matter of how thick the debris is when we sweep through its orbit.

Why is this meteor shower called the Perseids? Well, if you trace each meteor track backwards, they appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus. (Perseus will be low in the northeast sky at around midnight.)

How to View the Shower

The best viewing of the Perseids meteor shower this year should be on the morning of Monday, August 12, from midnight to 3 or 4 AM. Find a nice dark site, far from the lights of civilization. Set out a chaise lounge, sleeping bag, blanket, whatever... Bring a friend or three. Bring your kids and/or parents. Now just sit back and watch.

Try not to focus on any particular object (you will be able to see the Pleiades open star cluster).

This year, the moon will not be a factor. It will set in the early evening and should therefore not interfere with your observation of meteor trails.

Remember, there's no point in watching Perseus itself. It is just the place at which most of the meteor tracks would appear to cross, if you tracked them backwards. Carve up the sky with your viewing buddies, and then call out your sightings as they happen.

Enjoy the natural fireworks!

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