Thursday night into Friday morning will be one of the special dates scattered throughout each year when skywatchers can catch a meteor shower as a multitude of flares potentially burst in the darkness.
Meteor showers occur when our planet runs into the debris field left behind by icy comets or rocky asteroids going around the sun. These small particles burn up in the atmosphere, leading to blazing trails of light. The regularity of orbital mechanics means that any given meteor shower happens at roughly the same time each year.
The latest shower is the Perseids. They have been active since July 14 and go to Sept. 1 but they will peak Aug. 11 to 12, or Thursday night into early Friday morning.
Warm summer nights and high rates of fireballs make the Perseids one of the most popular showers of the year. Originating from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which comes back often through the inner solar system, the Perseids frequently put on a great show.
How to see a shower
The best practice is to head out to the countryside and get as far away from artificial light sources as possible. People in rural areas may have the luxury of just stepping outside. But city-dwellers have options, too.
Many cities have an astronomical society that maintains a dedicated dark sky area. “I would suggest contacting them and finding out where they have their location,” said Robert Lunsford, the secretary-general of the International Meteor Organization.
Meteor showers are usually best viewed when the sky is darkest, after midnight but before sunrise. In order to see as many meteors as possible, wait 30 to 45 minutes after you get to your viewing location. That will allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. Then lie back and take in a large swath of the night sky. Clear nights, higher altitudes and times when the moon is slim or absent are best. Mr. Lunsford suggested a good rule of thumb: “The more stars you can see, the more meteors you can see.”
Binoculars or telescopes aren’t necessary for meteor showers, and in fact will limit your view.