This year’s Perseid meteor shower, known for its bright, fast “shooting stars,” peaks August 11 to 13 and has the potential to be one of the best meteor viewing opportunities of the year.
Matthew Povich, associate professor of physics and astronomy, who usually coordinates the campus’ astronomy outreach project and managed citizen science Milky Way project, said watching the Perseid shower could be just the stress break we need.
Why should people watch the Perseid shower?
Because we need to see something beautiful and special that reminds us there is a large universe out there beyond our current world that has come to seem constricted, thanks to pandemic-induced isolation and distancing requirements. This is a great excuse to get out of the house.
What can people expect to see?
This depends on where you are and the intensity of this year’s shower. Meteors are misnamed “shooting stars” because that’s what they look like — as if a star suddenly appeared and streaked across the sky, lasting anywhere from a fraction of a second to a few seconds.
What days and time are the best to look for the meteors?
Tuesday (Aug. 11), Wednesday (Aug. 12), and Thursday (Aug. 13) in the early morning hours (after 2 a.m.) are the best times for viewing, but you can see meteors all night. These meteors appear to radiate from the Perseus constellation (hence the name “Perseids”), which rises in the northeast part of the sky during those times. So, choose a viewing location with a clear view of the northeastern horizon.
Are they easy to see?
They should be easy to see from a dark spot, but the moon will make them less easy than some years.
Do you have advice on where to watch?
I strongly recommend a dark spot far from city lights. The darker the sky, the more meteors you will see (hence less time waiting between meteors). Anywhere out in the desert away from city lights out to work great. That said, if there are some bright meteors they could be spotted from dark neighborhoods.
Povich is the 2019-20 recipient of the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Scholarships and Creative Activities. For people who want to get involved in astronomy projects, he recommends the Zooniverse Citizen Science project called “Radio Meteor Zoo” that is all about meteors and currently needs help from volunteers.