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This weekend will feature one of the best meteor showers of the year, boasting over 50 meteors an hour. However, clouds and wildfire smoke may spoil the show for many across the United States.
“This shower is routinely one of the best and most popular meteor showers of the year and is known for very bright and long-lasting meteors,” AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said.
This year will be a particularly good year for the Perseids as the shower’s peak falls around the same time as the new moon. The absence of moonlight will allow many of the fainter meteors to be seen.
When to view the Perseid meteor shower
Viewing the Perseid meteor shower will take a small amount of planning and cloud-free conditions around the shower’s peak.
“Unlike most meteor showers which have a short peak of high meteor rates, the Perseids have a very broad peak as Earth plows through the wide trail of cometary dust from comet Swift-Tuttle,” NASA said.
This broad peak will focus around the weekend with Sunday night being one of the best nights to view the Perseids.
Onlookers will still be able to see a few meteors on the nights following the shower’s peak, but the number of meteors visible per night gradually decreases during the second half of August.
Although some meteors will begin to streak across the sky during the evening, the best time to view the Perseids will be after midnight. This is when people may see more than 50 meteors an hour.
Some of the brighter meteors will be visible in areas with high light pollution, such as New York City or Los Angeles. However, the less light pollution, the greater the number of meteors will be able to be seen.
Observers viewing the Perseids from darker locations far away from city lights have counted as many as 100 meteors an hour on occasion.
The best viewing conditions on Sunday night are expected across parts of the Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley, similar to Saturday.
Again, clouds and rain will obscure the meteor shower for many from the southern Plains through the Northeast.
Although clouds will be largely absent across the western United States, smoke from wildfires burning across the region will create hazy conditions, limiting visibility near and downwind of the fires.
A change in air-masses in the Northwest could allow for improved viewing conditions on Sunday night compared to Saturday.
Tips for viewing a meteor shower
Meteor showers are one astronomical event that do not require any special equipment, such as a telescope, but following a few simple guidelines will help to maximize the number of shooting stars that are able to be seen.
One common misconception is that onlookers need to look in a certain direction to see meteors.
Although the meteors originate from the same area of the sky, known as a radiant point, meteors will be visible in all areas of the sky.
“My best advice if you’re trying to see meteors is to lay back and get as much of the sky in your view as possible” Samuhel said.
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“As with any meteor shower, you need patience,” Samuhel said. “Plan on making an evening out of it and stay outside for at least one hour.”
One reason to stay out this long is to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness, helping you to see some of the dimmer meteors and perhaps even the Milky Way.
“Your eyes will completely adjust to the darkness in about half an hour, then you should see some activity during the next half hour,“ Samuhel said.
Once adjusted to the darkness, it is important not to look at any source of light, such as a cellphone screen, flashlight or lamp post, as it can ruin your night vision.
The Perseids will be the last major meteor shower until late October when the Orionid meteor shower reaches its peak, bringing 15 to 25 meteors an hour.
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