John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Twice as many meteors than normal are expected during the nocturnal barrage.
Folks who want to catch a magnificent sky show tonight should head somewhere without light pollution between midnight and dawn, as this year’s Perseid meteor shower is expected to be thick and furious. (Conversely, people with irrational fears of being doinked on the noggin by space gravel should shelter indoors until next week.)
The perennial dusting from Comet Swift-Tuttle will peak during the early morning hours of August 12, with as many as 200 meteors per hour slashing the heavens in suitable watching conditions (read: dark). The reason for the unusual uptick in activity—about twice as many predicted meteors than during a normal year—is due to our huge, red-eyed neighbor in the frigid beyond. Jupiter exerts a gravitational pull on the comet’s particle wake, and conditions are such that the planet is now angling a particularly dense stream of dust toward Earth.
To increase your odds of fireball-spotting, check out CityLab’s guide to hunting meteors in the city. Or for a brief primer, here’s advice from NASA, which is streaming broadcasts of the shower Thursday and Friday after 10 p.m. EDT:
While Mother Nature can put on a magnificent celestial display, meteor showers rarely approach anything on the scale of a July 4th fireworks show. Plan to be patient and watch for at least half an hour. A reclining chair or ground pad will make it far more comfortable to keep your gaze on the night sky.
Lastly, put away the telescope or binoculars. Using either reduces the amount of sky you can see at one time, lowering the odds that you'll see anything but darkness. Instead, let your eyes hang loose and don't look in any one specific spot. Relaxed eyes will quickly zone in on any movement up above, and you'll be able to spot more meteors. Avoid looking at your cell phone or any other light. Both destroy night vision. If you have to look at something on Earth, use a red light. Some flashlights have handy interchangeable filters. If you don't have one of those, you can always paint the clear filter with red fingernail polish.