It’s that time of year again, the time when star gazers and night owls head out to their favorite dark place to look for shooting stars. This week marks the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Tonight and tomorrow night should be the best nights to view it. Here in Iowa, the weather should cooperate for tonight’s light show from above.
According to NASA, the Perseids are one of eight major meteor showers each year, but often the easiest one to catch a glimpse of.
Origins of Perseid Meteor Shower
NASA says the streaks across the night sky come from a comet known as 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The streaks of light, sometimes called shooting stars, are actually small pieces of comet material burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The meteor shower is named after the constellation most meteors seem to radiate from in the night sky, Perseus. At its peak, the meteor shower produces 50-80 visible meteors an hour.
The space agency reports the 2010 edition of the Perseids is considered by many as the year’s best meteor shower.
Viewing the Meteor Shower
There are many things to consider If you want to watch the meteor shower. First and foremost, understand the peak of the meteor shower comes very early in the morning. NASA says optimal viewing this week comes between when the crescent moon sets and the sun begins to rise.
Second, light is not your friend. That includes light that is manmade and light that is natural. The moon is the biggest blocker of a person’s ability to see meteors in the sky. City lights also produce a hue of light that can prevent a person from seeing the shooting stars.
Another bit of advice from NASA, make sure you have something comfortable to sit or lay down on. You might have to wait some time before you catch a meteor streaking across the sky. And finally, relax your eyes. It can take a while for your eyes to adjust to the lighting of the night sky. Tensing up and shifting your eyes around will only make it difficult.
One other interesting bit of advice, NASA says you should avoid looking at your cell phone or any other bright object because it forces your eyes to once again adjust to the dark skies above.
Above all, watching a meteor shower takes a lot of patience, but for space enthusiasts it is well worth the wait. Meteor showers can produce streaks across the sky, big and small, in all kinds of colors. So grab a cup of coffee and head into the dark, because there’s a comet that’s about to put on a show.