Thinking Outside the Classroom: Watch the Perseids meteor shower at its peak |

Thinking Outside the Classroom: Watch the Perseids meteor shower at its peak

Stargazing is a year-round activity as the night sky above changes with the seasons. In the northern hemisphere, summer is the prime time stargazing season simply because the nights are warmer and you can stay out longer.

This weekend, the Perseids meteor shower will be on grand display, made even better since it arrives only four days past the new moon. The waxing crescent will set before the meteor shower begins, leaving the night sky inky dark, allowing fainter meteors to be visible. All said, the viewing conditions for this year’s Perseids meteor shower will be great. If making wishes on falling stars brings you joy, then this weekend will fill you with moments of delight.

What is the Perseids meteor shower?

Most meteor showers come from comets. A comet is like a dirty, dusty, compressed snowball of ice. As its orbit brings it nearer to the sun, it warms up, turning the ice into gas and releasing the dust into space. These dust particles, or meteoroids, continue on the same orbital path as the comet.

When the Earth, following its ceaseless orbit, enters the trail of particles left by a passing comet, some of the granular meteoroids burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. This is a meteor shower. Perseids meteoroids result from Comet 109/P Swift-Tuttle, discovered in July 1862. The grand display peaks Thursday, Aug. 12, but is prime for viewing through Friday, Aug. 13.

Where to see the meteor shower

First, get to a dark location away from urban light glare. Find an Alpine meadow, a field, a hill or an overlook from the side of a mountain that gives you an unobstructed view of the north-northeast horizon.

At about 8:30 p.m., look for the constellation Cassiopeia having just risen above the north-northeast horizon. This constellation looks like the capital letter “W,” just a bit squished. This is where the meteors will radiate. By midnight, the namesake constellation of Perseus is in full view.

Mark Laurin

How to observe the meteor shower

No need for a telescope or binoculars to enjoy this show. Your naked eye is best since you can scan more of the sky at once and shift your focus faster. Give your eye about 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness as it allows you to see the fainter meteors. Bring a chair or blanket. You’ll want to be comfortable since the meteors are unpredictable. While 40 to 50 meteors are predicted per hour, that doesn’t mean they come at a steady rate. Sometimes, you’ll see 10 meteors in five minutes and then not a single meteor for 30 minutes. The shower improves as the radiant point moves up higher in the night sky. The later you stay up, the more meteors will reward you.

So get out and take a peek at the Perseids at their peak. Gather your friends and family for the shower. It is more fun having multiple sets of eyes scanning the sky and hearing the excitement when a meteor streaks by. Sit back and bask under the ultimate natural firework show, and make a wish upon a star!

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