I was planning on writing this post anyways but with Sora no Manimani running, I can actually tie into an anime and not feel like I’m running off-topic. 🙂 It’s a bit of a ramble but hopefully it’ll make sense at the end.
Outside of observing the moon and the very occasional solar eclipse, it becomes difficult for many people to see how cool the stars and night-time sky can be without a bunch of equipment and driving to distant locales to get away from light pollution. For these people it’s possible to go to a planetarium or look at cool pictures that the Hubble telescope took or watch an anime by KyoAni that features the night sky like AIR but it’s not possible to personally observe cool astronomy things so most people don’t ever really give the night sky a second thought.
I fell into this apathy even though I personally love SF books, follow the space program closely, and use those Hubble pictures for computer desktops. I only know a couple constellations (Big and Little Dipper, Orion) and I’d’ve sworn on a bible that KyoAni was just making the nighttime sky look that pretty because they’re Kyoto Animation. However, this apathy started to change two years ago. I heard about a meteor shower that was going to occur and that it would be possible for even city-dwellers to see at least some of the meteors. This piqued my interest since I’d yet to see a shooting star so after scouting a spot in my yard that had all the street lights and the neighbor’s lights blocked, I set out a blanket and started looking for these meteors.
After about 20 minutes, I saw my first meteor and as that light streaked across the sky, I couldn’t help but think it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Only when I couldn’t stay awake anymore did I finally go back inside. I was surprised to see that I had been out there for well over two hours – it had only felt like a little bit. I ended up seeing a few really nice ones and about a dozen smaller ones; plenty to leave me thrilled and wanting more.
I might be preaching to the choir about how cool meteor showers are and everyone who reads this blog already plans on catching this years Perseid meteor shower but I’m guessing that population densities being what they are, many of you probably live in the city and have never tried to watch a meteor shower before. So, I wanted to write this post to make more people aware of the Perseid meteor shower (and hopefully get some to go meteor watching) and pass along some tips.
Perseid Meteor Shower
Peak viewing will occur the night between Tuesday, August 11 and Wednesday, August 12. It’s possible to see a much smaller amount during the couple of nights before and after this night.
The meteors originate from the northeast area of the sky and while many can be seen in this area, they will appear anywhere in the sky.
The number and frequency of meteors that the viewer will see will depend on several factors.
- Most meteors, including the Perseids, are in reality debris from comets that the Earth runs through and this debris is normally the size of grains of rice. Some years the Earth goes through denser or lighter debris areas and this makes for a varying amount of meteors. In the case of the Perseids, perfect viewing conditions mean roughly ~100 meteors are seen per hour in an average year but past rates do not guarantee a certain level this year. However, some astronomers think this year will be an above average year.
- The darker the sky and the darker the area surrounding the viewer, the more meteors will be seen. Heading to the country is best but finding a place to go might be difficult unless you know someone out there. Finding a spot that no lights shine on you and that allows you to see a large percentage of the sky is all that’s needed.
- This year the moon will rise around midnight and probably wash out at least the fainter meteors so viewing before midnight might be preferred.
- The spacing between seeing meteors will vary greatly; I’ve waited as little as 30 seconds and as long as 20 minutes to see the next meteor.
- While anytime during this night will yield a multitude of meteors, the rate does increase the closer to dawn you watch.
Things You’ll Need
- To view the meteors I have used two methods: laying on a blanket and sitting in a reclining lawn chair. Both work and remain comfortable after long periods of time so I’d suggest whichever is easier to set up. You might want to bring a pillow or two, just in case.
- I’ve never had problems with insects but it might be a good idea to bring along some insect repellent.
- Nights outside get surprisingly cool. Even if the low is going to be in the upper 60’s, there’s a good chance that you’ll get cold. I always like to bring at least a second cover but will also bring a hoodie or light jacket as well.
- A little patience. Seeing a meteor before your eyes have adjusted to the darkness is nearly impossible and it takes roughly 10-15 minutes for your eyes to completely adapt. So, don’t get quickly discouraged and try to limit exposing your eyes to bright lights once you’re outside.
- Clear skies. 🙂
- Not really a requirement but having a few people with you (family, friends) does make the experience more fun. Scanning the entire sky is nearly impossible for one person so having more eyes might mean more meteors seen and if the meteors aren’t cooperating then you have someone to talk to while you watch for the next meteor.
Tip for City-dwellers
Light pollution will be a problem no matter what but by looking straight up you can minimize the interference. If you can imagine straight up as making a 90 degree angle with the ground, keep between 45 and 90 degrees when looking for meteors, any lower and they will most likely be obscured.
And finally, I wanted to mention something tangential to the Perseid meteor shower. Everyone in my family has gotten to really like watching meteors (even my mom) so this year we decided to schedule our vacation so it would fall during the Perseids and we’ve going somewhere with a much darker sky then what’s around where I live. Thus, starting this Friday, I’ll be on vacation and most likely will not be updating my blog till next week Saturday (Aug. 15) at the earliest. I might have an internet connection so I might write a couple posts during my vacation but I’ll only have my very old laptop with me so I’ll have little access to anime for the time.