The Perseids meteor shower happens every August, and in 2020 the meteor shower will peak on August 11 and 12. While the moon will appear half full (or a quarter moon) this year, the Perseids usually outshine the light of the moon, showering 50-75 meteors an hour.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic date night, an opportunity to really wow a first-time camper, or a quiet night to yourself, the Perseids are not to be missed. Here are some tips to see the meteor shower at its best.
1) Find dark skies using a light pollution map.
The full moon isn’t the only thing that can outshine the Perseids’ glow. Get as far as you can from artificial light to ensure dark skies and better viewing. Try using the Light Pollution overlay in Gaia GPS to find campsites unaffected by city lights.
2) Look for the Perseids meteor shower during a new moon or a crescent moon
The Perseids are usually active from mid-July through August, with a peak in early August. This year, the best time to see them is during the peak on August 11 and 12 where the meteors will likely outshine the light of the quarter moon.
3) Check the weather before you go.
Dark skies are great, but they don’t mean much if there’s cloud cover. Check the weather before you pick a meteor shower viewing spot. One good option: this 24-Hour Weather Forecast map overlay, which uses data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
4) Also check the air pollution forecast to ensure clear skies.
Overhead haze can impede your view of distant stars just like any other weather phenomenon. Check the Air Quality Forecast overlays in Gaia GPS to make sure you’re headed to a site with crystal-clear air, unaffected by smog or other pollutants.
It’s also smart to keep smoke on your radar this time of year. Check for nearby wildfires using the Current Wildfires map overlay.
6) Get to higher elevation if you can.
If you’re close to the mountains, head uphill. Air tends to be clearer at higher elevations. Finding a trail or campsite high up on a hill or bald can also be a good way to escape obscuring tree cover.
5) Stay up later.
The best time to see the Perseids meteor shower is between 11pm and 4am, when skies are darkest. If you need to brew a cup of after-dinner coffee to hold out for the good stuff, so be it.
6) Keep your eyes about 45 degrees above the horizon
Don’t miss all the action by looking at the wrong part of the sky. Meteors are brightest when they’re overhead (as opposed to at the horizon) since that’s when they’re closest to the earth. Direct your gaze such that it makes a line about 45 degrees from the surface of the earth. We recommend packing a camp chair or a picnic blanket to lie on.
7) Let your eyes adapt to the dark before peak viewing hours.
It can take your eyes 30 minutes to an hour to fully adjust to the dark. Turn off all headlamps, and extinguish all campfires at least an hour before the peak viewing window starts. That means lights out around 10pm.
8) Be patient.
Remember, the Perseids meteor shower doesn’t happen all at once. Instead, it’s like a steady, peaceful trickle of shooting stars. Settle in, get comfortable, and enjoy the show.