You may have heard; on the night of August 11-12 the earth plows into the trail of particles left behind along the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle, resulting in the annual Perseid meteor shower. The stream of comet dust is denser at some parts of the comet’s 130-year orbit than others, and some meteor experts believe this will be a plentiful year, up to twice the average rate. Now for the reality check: The average observer under average skies may well see less than half of the published hourly rate (called ZHR, which means “zenith hourly rate” observed by an excellent observer under perfect conditions). With the normal Perseid ZHR being 100, and this year’s predicted to be around twice that, an average observer in OK skies might see more than one a minute. That’s still a great show! But wait – these meteors are burning up in the upper atmosphere, high above any cloud cover – that means cloudy skies will spoil the show. Current forecast is for a partly to mostly cloudy night, but we are still a couple days away.
Here’s what to do. First, wait until after moonset (1:08 AM local). You don’t need moonlight washing out the fainter meteors. Find an unobstructed location as far from lights as possible, allow your eyes to dark-adapt, and just stare up. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, though all true shower members will be traveling away from their namesake constellation, Perseus. Don’t expect Hollywood, and you’ll be happier.