Perseid Meteor Shower Likely To Be Great View, Won't Be Eclipsed By Moon

(FOX 11 / AP) People looking for a shooting star to wish upon may find Wednesday overnight into Thursday to be a dream come true. Celestial timing will help people see more of the oldest meteor shower known to Earth, the Perseids, when they peak 3 a.m. local Thursday, according to astronomers.

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That's "because the moon is almost new and there's no moonlight to mess with the show," said NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke. The last time the Perseids peaked with little moonlight was 2007.

"If the weather is good, expect one shooting star a minute, maybe more," said Cooke.

The skies will be clear for an unusually large section of the United States, said Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters. Much of the East, Midwest and far West will be almost cloudless. But the forecast isn't as nice for Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona, Utah and Idaho.

The sky show is pieces of comet Swift-Tuttle hitting Earth's atmosphere at more than 133,000 mph and burning up. The best way to watch is to lie down and look up - no telescopes needed.

"Meteor showers just touch people in a special way," said planetary scientist Sheila Kanani of the Royal Astronomical Society in London.

"For a lot of people, it's a make-a-wish kind of mentality," Kanani said. "There's something quite romantic about a meteor shower."

If your skies aren't clear or there's too much light, NASA is broadcasting the Perseids from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. EDT with Cooke and other experts explaining what's happening in the skies.

From a dark wilderness location in the hour before dawn, you should expect to see meteors in increasing numbers, from 20 to 80 per hour. Because of light pollution, observers in urban or suburban settings will see only a small fraction of this number of meteors.

The meteors are visible from about 11 p.m. until dawn. This is after the moon sets on the nights of the maximum this year, so moonlight will not be present to drown out meteors. Because of its bright sky, Griffith Park is not a good meteor observing spot, and will be closed as usual after 10:00 p.m. on the nights of the meteor shower.

Good viewing areas include campgrounds of the San Gabriel Mountains, Angeles National Forest, Cleveland National Forest, Los Padres National Forest, the Mojave Desert, and Anza Borrego Desert that are far from cities or towns, and that have unobscured views of the sky.

Perseid Meteor Viewing Tips:

  • Pick from the time frames above.  The hardest to see would be the ones between 9:30 and 10:30 PM because they are more rare.  Next in line would be after midnight but the best bet is pre-dawn.
  • Get outside of the city and away from artificial light
  • Find open sky
  • Give your eyes 20 minutes to adjust to the dark
  • Sit for 1 hour and enjoy.  The meteors often come in spurts and then you'll notice a big lull as well.  But patience is key!
  • To watch meteors, remember that no special equipment is needed. You will need to be dark adapted, which means not looking at any lights (including cell phone displays) for at least 15 minutes before watching. You will want to be comfortable, and a reclining chair, deck chair, or chaise lounge combined with a sleeping bag and warm clothing is recommended. You will want to look up toward the northeast.
  • To learn how to give your observations scientific value, start with the Sky and Telescope Webpage, "The Basics of Meteor Observation."

Online NASA: http://www.nasa.gov

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