No one else around, and a shimmer takes my eye. I lift my head, blinded by the sky… that’ll be tomorrow’s Perseid meteor shower.
An ordinary Tuesday will bear witness to a cherished celestial event tomorrow night, August 11, when the Perseid meteor shower soars across the northern hemisphere.
According to NASA, it’s ‘often considered to be one of the best meteor showers of the year due to its high rates and pleasant late-summer temperatures’. I’m pretty sure nobody is sleeping properly with the sweltering heat at the moment, so why not pop a chair outside and look at some ‘shooting stars’?
As explained by Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG), the dramatic shower is caused by the Earth ‘slamming into the debris left behind by comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle in July and August every year’, with the meteors seemingly originating from the constellation of Perseus. Larger meteors can even be seen exploding as fireballs.
As pieces of the comet break off and fly towards our planet, they collide with the atmosphere at speeds of anywhere between 7-45 miles-per-second – however, RMG added that ‘the actual speed that a meteor enters our atmosphere travels at depends on the combined speed of the Earth and the debris itself’.
In terms of how to actually view the Perseids, NASA explains:
If it’s not cloudy, pick an observing spot away from bright lights, lay on your back, and look up! You don’t need any special equipment to view the Perseids – just your eyes. (Note that telescopes or binoculars are not recommended because of their small fields of view.) Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky so don’t worry about looking in any particular direction.
Basically, just head on outside and look up, take in ‘as much sky as possible’. In the UK, stargazers will likely be able to see some meteors as soon as the sun sets due to the radiant lying above the horizon. However, the shower will be best visible between midnight and 5.30am, August 12.
However, there’s a pesky habit that’ll keep you from fully absorbing all the wonders of the shower: scrolling on your phone.
NASA wrote a ‘pro tip’ for newbie stargazers, urging people to let their eyes adjust to the dark for around 30 minutes in order to see more meteors. It added: ‘Try to stay off of your phone too, as looking at devices with bright screens will negatively affect your night vision and hence reduce the number of meteors you see!’
If you don’t wanna miss a thing, make sure you stay awake for the meteor shower tomorrow night.