12 things you need to watch the Perseid meteors Sunday night

By Phil Plait | August 9, 2007 9:10 pm

Sunday night/Monday morning August 12/13 is the peak of the annual and much beloved Perseid meteor shower. Meteor showers occur when the Earth gets to a point in its orbit crossed by the orbit of debris from a comet. Comets are basically big ol’ chunks of rock and gravel held together by ice. When the comet gets near the Sun, the ice melts, and debris gets loose. Over time it spreads out along the orbit of the comet. If that orbit crosses ours, then we plow into the debris, which burns up in our atmosphere. Voila! Meteors!

Since this happens when the Earth goes past the intersection of the two orbits, it happens around the same time every year. The Perseids peak when the Earth passes through the debris left over from the comet Swift-Tuttle. The chunks are relatively dense in the debris field, so we get a lot of meteors, typically 60 or so per hour, maybe more. Only a couple of showers do better (the Geminids in December are good, for example) and since the Perseids peak in mid-August, they are a favorite for northern hemisphere folks.

Even better, there is a new moon this year, so the bright moonlight won’t wash out faint meteors. You’ll see more if you go out and look!

Important: because of the orbital geometry, the shower won’t really pick up until after local midnight (literally, the halfway point between dusk and dawn). Going out right after sunset will just be disappointing. The later you stay up after midnight the better. Incidentally, the Perseids have a broad peak: you could go out as early as Friday night or late as Monday or Tuesday night and still see some.

A lot of people don’t know how easy it is to watch a meteor shower, and think it takes a lot of prep. Nope! Here’s a simple list of what you need.

1) A wide open sky with a view to the East

This is the biggest consideration. Meteors appear in random spots on the sky and can go from horizon to horizon. The more sky you can see, the more meteors you’ll see. Try to avoid nearby buildings, trees, and so on.

If you trace the path of the meteors backward, they will appear to radiate from one point in the sky, located in the constellation Perseus (as played by Harry Hamlin). This is the same effect as when you’re driving a car through a tunnel and the lights on the walls and ceiling appear to come from the point ahead of you. A good view of Perseus will again up the odds of seeing more meteors.

Perseus is in the east pretty much all night, so a clear eastward view is good. Being able to look in that direction will increase your odds of seeing more meteors. This isn’t critical, though; just a big wide view is your best bet.

2) Dark skies

Meteors are generally not terribly bright. A few can be blazing, but most are about as bright as your average star, so you want to be away from lights. Your back yard might be fine, but make sure street lights are blocked and your house lights are off.

3) Time

Once you’re outside, it takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to get fully adapted to the dark — your pupils dilate, letting in more light, and your eye produces a light-sensitive protein called rhodopsin. Both of these take time to fully kick in. So don’t be disappointed if you see very few or no meteors right away. White light will bleach the rhodopsin, by the way, so if you need some light, use a flashlight with red cellophane covering the front. That will preserve your night vision.

4) A lounge chair

You need to be able to see a lot of the sky for minutes or hours, so you want to be comfortable. A chaise lounge or a folding beach recliner is a big plus. You can lie on the ground with a blanket if you want, but comfort is important if you’re going to be out for a while. The ground tends to be cold at night, and wet, too. Which reminds me…

5) Blankets!

Yes, it’s August, and in the northern hemisphere it can be hot, but temperatures drop at night. You won’t be moving much, either, so you won’t be generating much heat. 65 degrees Fahrenheit is cold if you’re not moving. Also…

6) A hat

You lose most of your body heat through your head, so a hat helps a lot. [Updated: I’ve heard this factoid is not true, but still: a hat still keeps your head warm.] Plus, if you have a nearby street light, you can position your hat to block it. I’ve done that and it works! Added bonus: no mosquito bites on your head.

7) Telescope, binoculars

I recommend not using a telescope. Why not? Telescopes see only a small part of the sky, and meteors appear in random spots. I guarantee the best meteor of the night will happen while you are stooped over an eyepiece, and you’ll miss it. However, Jupiter is well positioned for viewing, so this is as good a chance as any to do some observing, and I hate to tell people to not take advantage of a nice night! But be prepared to hear everyone else gasp and then mock you for missing the best meteor evah.

Binoculars are better. You can scan the sky, look for interesting things, and still be able to look around quickly if a bright meteor appears.

8) Star chart

Hey, you’re outside! Why not get familiar with the sky? You can find charts at local bookstores, and online if you do a little searching. Sagittarius, Scorpius, Hercules… this is a fine time of year to be out looking for cosmic landmarks.

9) Rest

Oh boy, is this one important. It’s after midnight, you’re lying down, snuggled in a blanket, it’s dark, and your eyes are focused on infinity. You start daydreaming a bit… and the next thing you know, the Sun is rising and you’re covered in mosquito bites.

Take a nap Sunday afternoon.

10) Friends, family, neighbors

Having other folks with you will help you stay awake, and honestly, the joy and beauty of a meteor shower is best shared. One of my favorite times ever with The Little Astronomer was watching the Leonids shower years ago. She had a blast, and not just because she got to stay up until 3:00 a.m. with her dad… but then again, that’s a big part of it, too.

11) An appreciation of what you are seeing.

Read up on meteor showers, what they are, what we’ve learned from them. Comets orbit the Sun for billions of years, and you’re seeing tiny parts of them — most no bigger than a grain of sand — as they slam into our atmosphere a hundred miles away at speeds of up to 40 miles per second. How cool is that?

12) Wonder

This may be the best thing to bring, and the easiest. Meteor showers are simply wonderful. It’s a cosmic show, and it’s free, and it’s very, very cool.

Enjoy.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (104)

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  1. Thanks for the awesome reminder. I’ve already planned a nap, and reserved the backyard for the evening. I’m considering devious plans for knocking out the neighbor’s mercury light — but so far haven’t come up with anything more creative than a rock. Possibly a rock thrown at 40 miles per second…

  2. autumn

    Best location for those on the eastern seaboard is always the beach. No matter how many obnoxious light are right behind you, if you can block their direct impact on your retinas, you can gaze out over the ocean (no lights at all) for miles. The eastern sky will be very dark, and meteors will be astounding. I used to watch the Perseids every summer in high school from the beach, and despite the condos blighting the coast, the show was always spectacular (not to mention that there’s no place better fer snugglin’ yer honey than the beach at night).

  3. Brown

    For those who have never seen a meteor shower, stay away from meadows in which lightning bugs congregate. The reason is that your eyes get drawn to the flashes of light in the sky, and if there are lightning bugs about, you will always be wondering whether you’re seeing a bug or a bona fide meteor.

  4. John Phillips

    I remember back in the early 80s, lying on a hilltop in the Brecon Beacons, half out of the bivvy bag but nice and warm in my sleeping bag, watching the most spectacular Leonid firework display I have ever seen. It lasted most of the night and there were so many that most of the time it simply wasn’t possible to count them and it truly was’t so much a shower as a monsoon. Since then I try to watch as many of the various showers as I can. Unfortunately, I have never since been in such a good location with such a pristine crystal clear sky as I was that night to see any that good, for nothing has ever come close to that night in either numbers or intensity. Thanks for reminding me of one of my most treasured memories

  5. I agree, watch the perseids. Well, unless you’re up late late late finishing a poster for a pulsar conference. But given your usual attitude to dubious facts, I was surprised to see “you lose most of your body heat through your head” here. Where did you get that idea? Probably the same place I did, somebody who thought you should wear a hat said it, and you remembered it as a good way to make people wear hats. It’s kind of a myth. But really, it doesn’t make much sense: what does it mean? If you went around in a snowsuit and no hat, you’d probably lose almost all your body heat through your head (do you count inhalations and exhalations? hats won’t help with those…). If you went stark naked, I find “most through the head” a bit surprising – there’s an awful lot of skin area, and some important bits (shush, I mean the heart and lungs) that you really can’t afford not to heat.

    Now, maybe I’m on the wrong track here, and you have a reference on this. But if it’s something you just heard and repeated as true without thinking much about… well, isn’t that what skepticism is against?

  6. CR

    Shawn, my uncle has a similar problem at his home in the country… a new neighbor moved in next door, and missed the ‘security’ of brightly lit city nights, so put up a bright streetlight on the garage. The light, of course, shines outward in all directions, including into my uncle’s yard & house.
    One thing my uncle does periodically is to ask the neighbor to turn off the light for the night when special events require it.
    Try asking. Who knows? Maybe you’ll turn someone else on to watching meteor showers.

  7. Eric TF Bat

    Hmmmph. You forgot the most important things for watching meteor showsers:

    13. Industrial strength weed-killer.
    14. Guide dog, white cane, braille books, etc.
    15. Shotgun for dealing with looters, petty dictators, etc.
    16. Willingness to move to the Isle of Wight and set up a breeding commune.

    There — with all that, you’ll be fine!

  8. wright

    Thanks for the list of practical items like warm clothing, something to sit on, etc. Phil. Even a minimum of comfort can go a long way to taking one’s mind off distractions and keeping it on wonders like the Perseids.

    I have a few outstanding memories of meteors. One was watching a shower in Tuolumne Meadows on a summer camping trip. So few lights… clear mountain air… the moon already low… streak after streak crossed the sky. That might well have been the Perseids; I can’t remember the exact date.

    Another was also in the Sierra Nevada, near sunset. A spectacular bolide crossed nearly from west to east, leaving a fading trail behind it. Utterly silent, almost too bright to look at, it finally disappeared behind a peak across the valley from our campsite.

  9. Steve P.

    Completely off topic, but what the hay…

    Anne,

    That article cites “experts”. That’s not a good sign. Plus, I can give you several similar links that site “studies” that say a large percentage of heat is lost through the head, but they are probably allowing the rest of the body to be covered. Other sites say that the head needs to be kept warm because the brain is very dense with blood vessels that need to be kept at the right temperature.

    I don’t really trust any of them about relative heat loss of the head compared to the rest of the body. Based on thermodynamics I would think you would lose heat fastest from where you are the hottest. I am no sort of physician, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if the head needed to be warmer than the other extremities. I also wouldn’t be surprised if I was completely wrong about everything I believe on this issue.

    But it’s not important enough for me to do the research to find out. A hat will make me warmer either way. Skepticism has much bigger fish to fry before attacking the little guys.

  10. Steve P.

    Back on topic, the 12th is my birthday, and I will be spending it with comet dust. Thanks for the tips, Phil.

  11. owlbear1

    Sigh. Trapped deep inside a city unable to escape…

  12. Nigel Depledge

    Phil, a bit more detail on the physiology:

    It only takes a few minutes for the pupils to dilate. By far the larger component of dark-adapted vision is the sensitisation of the retina, and it is this component that takes 20 – 30 minutes.

    IIRC, rhodopsin has three different forms, one of which is its normal normal state in dark adaptation, one of which begins the signalling cascade that activates a nerve impulse and one of which is intermediate (being less light-sensitive but still able to absorb a photon and change to the form that activates a nerve impulse).

    BTW, there is no such thing as a “chaise lounge”. There is a “chaise longue” (from the French for “long chair”), but, typically, this is not exactly suitable for moving out into the garden. I guess you mean something like a sun-lounger.

    Anyway, thanks for the “heads up” about the Perseids.

  13. Buzz Parsec

    I don’t know about the head thing, but it is a common expression among hikers that if your feet are cold, put on a hat. Seems to work.

    wright – I also saw the Perseids from Yosemite once. I was camping in the National Forest campground right outside the park (the park was full), and was watching through a lot of big pine and fir trees, but the next day while hiking to Nevada Falls, I met a guy who had rock-climbed Half Dome the previous day and was on his way down. He said they were spectacular from the top. I wish I had though ahead and had driven up to Tuolomne or Tioga Pass the previous night… :-}

  14. Ryan

    I have a question: I live in LA and I’m new to meteor showers. My question is that since I’m on the west coast does that have an impact on the visibility of the meteors? Or is it the same sight for anyone on any side of the world? Just a couple of questions that have been on my mind.

    -Ryan.

  15. Nick

    Anyone, by chance, know what the total time of the shower will be? I’m ten hours ahead of Denver time, so I need to know if I’ll be able to see them when it’s night by me. (I’ve tried and tried, but a baseball hat just won’t block the light from the sun, I don’t care how big the brim is.) Thanks!
    –Nick

  16. DrFlimmer

    Hopefully the bad weather will be gone in the next days. It’s grey in grey today, but it should become better over the weekend. Hopefully!

  17. Bill Bones

    @Nick:

    Meteor showers don’t happen on a time schedule as do, say, eclipses. The Earth needs many hours or even days to travel across the debris field causing a meteor shower, and so meteor showers are going on non-stop for hours and days. The Perseid start on the 10th and last up to the 14th, roughly, and they are going on 24 hours a day… just you won’t be able to see them until it’s night for you. And once it’s dark for you, the time when you will see more is after midnight.

  18. Michelle

    I probably won’t be able to look at the peak, but I’ll certainly TRY to catch a few! I hope the weather will be friendly for me

    Oh and you site’s full of popups again.

  19. Thank you! I’d almost forgotten that they were this weekend.

    I’ll be staying out in the country, too – so that’s a plus! Just need to find an open area and some bug spray – thanks, again for the heads-up, BA!

  20. Oh yeah, the Perseids this weekend.

    Well, here at my location it’s supposed to be cloudy and rainy Sunday night overnight. It will be clear tomorrow night, so I might see something.

    I wasn’t planning on staying up, because in the past few years (with no moon around) the Perseids – well, they sucked IMO. Last time I spent all night outside for about 45 meteors. From midnight to dawn.

  21. Jalbietz

    Thanks for the reminder. I’ll actually be able to catch this one!

    That being said, you could be a *bit* more sensitive to those of us who cannot benefit from a hat’s “Added bonus: no mosquito bites on your head.” All this darn hair…

  22. And the Perseids mean the annual Stellafane convention is on in Vermont with Keynote Talk “Mapping Landing Sites and Planning Rover Traverses with High Resolution Images from Mars Orbit by Tim Parker, JPL, and John Dobson attending! The weather is rainy now, but expecting clear skies for Sunday night.

    http://www.stellafane.com/convention/2007/index.html

    John

  23. Clay Freeman

    Phil,
    Cold is no problem in Queen Creek, AZ. ~35 miles SE of the rude Phoenix lights (no pun intended). Lounge chair is a MUST. I’ve experienced numurous neck spasms viewing showers in the past.

    Also Phil, I’m looking foreward to sitting at your table during the Spacefest 2007 banquet next week. (Yes! You were my first choice)

  24. Tim G

    I may try to view them Sunday or Monday morning. The sun rises around 7:00 am this time of year in Tallahassee. The night sky looks much better than downtown if I am just ten miles out. I’ll have to get a detailed weather forecast the evening before, however.

  25. Steve P.: Of course you should wear a hat. It does keep you warm! I’m complaining about these percentages that are quoted as if they make any kind of sense, that people get by word of mouth. As for having bigger fish to fry, I agree that there are beliefs out there that are much more dangerous, much more idiotic, or (unfortunately often) both. But skepticism is *supposed* to be about a critical attitude to facts. Too often it is actually “what we believe is right and what they believe is wrong”. That’s only a reasonable attitude when you check the truth of what you believe. If you just blindly accept what your science teachers tell you, are you better than someone who blindly accepts what their pastor tells them? Maybe a little, but a good skeptic — particularly one who wants to stand up in public and argue for a skeptical attitude — should make it a habit to check their claims, small or large, before making them.

    The way this little tidbit propagates is very close to the way urban legends propagate too, although their lessons are often more moral and less practical (for example, the hook on the car door is told basically to convince girls not to be too “easy”). Let’s propagate facts based on their truth, shall we?

  26. TY

    Awesome! I am very very excited. It is supposed to be clear skies and nice weather all weekend so I wil be taking out my 120mm refractor, some beer, some food and some friends and going camping at a place with the darkest skies avalable in CT. Thanks for the tips Phil! Love reading all your post’s keep up the good work!

  27. Edward Cohen

    Please help me get rid of the clouds and rain showers.
    Its been this way since Tuesday. Good viewing to
    those who don’t have this problem.

  28. MichaelS

    I’ve tested that theory, and walking around in 40° weather with nothing but a hat is far colder than doing it with shoes, pants and a flannel shirt. Even if the hat is a balaclava that covers everything but your eyes from the neck up. It’s possible that your head loses heat at a higher rate per unit of area than other body parts due to it being one of the better heated parts, and having a higher surface area to mass ratio. Not sure about that one.

    I think I’ll just take my convertible up to the mountain and park it facing the sky. Then I can just turn the heater on if it gets cold. I know, I know–it’s kinda getting out of the “one with nature” aspect of things, but I paid $20K for the thing, so I might as well put it to good use. :)

  29. Great tips. I always forget about the meteor showers at the last minute! This is a good reminder.

    I hope the sky clears up this weekend :)

  30. Me

    Don’t forget to smoke some weed if that’s your thing. Makes it more better!

  31. Nigel: I looked up the spelling, actually, and found TONS of variants. So I just picked one.

    Anne: I know that the brain is important to the body, so it’s kept warm at all cost. So are the internal organs, which is why hands and feet get cold first; blood is drawn from them to warm the trunk and head. I should research the “most” part of the claim, but I’m sure a lot of heat is lost thru the head. A hat helps a lot.

    Lots of folks: the shower is good for days before and after the peak. You could go out tonight and see some! I have heard that there is a actual peak time, and it favors the US (for once!). But that means we’ll see an extra few, that’s all. Doesn’t matter where you are, go out after midnight and enjoy the show!

  32. Austin

    65 degrees?!? I wish! Here in Orlando, it’s still at least 80 after midnight. Doesn’t get down to the mid 70-s until right before dawn.

    It sucks.

  33. Jamie

    This is great!! I have been telling my co-workers and family and friends all to get out on Sunday night to watch. I myself am lucky enough to be going on vacation with friends. The binocs will be out, the Telescope will be set up, and fortunately while I line up tagets my friends will be occupied watching the meteor shower!!! And we can take turns, it will be perfect! The suggested 12 things will be noted for sure and I will make sure to check them off as I get ready to go out. The extra dark sunglasses will be on all day and the red flashlights will be out!! Great suggestions Phil. Looking forward to my first real meteor shower experience.

  34. My husband and I were lounging on the back patio last night, watching the sky — the Milky Way was so bright, it looked like a high, thin cloud! — when we saw a “shooting star” to the south. It reminded him of the year he went to summer camp and watched this meteor shower. We’ll be out there early Monday morning, looking to the east. We have great dark skies here on the edge of nowhere and I look forward to seeing the show. Thanks for the tips.

  35. Thomas Siefert

    More about “Chaise Longue” from Bill Bryson, check out this animated excerpt from his autobiography, read by the man himself: http://www.vidlit.com/bryson/

  36. Doug

    Blankets? BLANKETS?!
    In the part of coastal Georgia where I live, the heat index is expected to hit 125 this afternoon. ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE.
    The parka stays in the closet Sunday night.

  37. KLA2

    Thanks. I have forwarded this to friends and family members. Saves ME a lot of time and effort ;>) Just so you know. Probably thousands (millions?) do the same. Your efforts are not wasted. Thanks.

  38. Carol

    I was out last night after midnight to take in the incredible aroma of my jassmine bushes & saw 5-6 zip across the sky while there. What a treat! Looking forward to the next couple of nights. Don’t forget the mosquito repellent!

  39. Ed

    BA,
    I probably won’t be able to do it, since I have work the next day, but I’ve found going up to Rocky Mountain National Park to the Beaver Meadows is a good place with dark skies. The mountains do pretty good at blocking the light from Boulder/Denver, but there is still a glow along the mountains. During other meteor showers, I’ve seen others up at beaver meadows.

    Ed (in Fort Collins)

  40. Masterpo

    This may be a really stupid question but …..

    Why doesn’t the Space shuttle get clobbered by this debris ? Is the shuttle meteor proof ?

  41. Id

    Masterpo,
    They got somebody driving the shuttle to miss them.

  42. Kathy

    All set: air mattress for the back of the pickup, pillows, blankets, a thermos of cocoa, and the most beautiful, expansive sky on the top of a mountain. Look forward to this every year, and this year should be great!

  43. Timothy

    Phil,

    Now that you’ve moved to Boulder County, there’s a VERY important additional thing you’ll need. Mosquito protection, ideally a product that contains at least 10% DEET. West Nile Virus has become a very real threat over the last few years, especially in East Boulder County. The 2007 season has started; positive confirmation of West Nile Virus in mosquito pools has been detected, and the first human case of illness from WNV infection confirmed. It may seem as if there’s an infintesimally small chance of infection, but I know two former colleagues – one quite a good friend – whose lives were devastated by a single mosquito bite.

    Check out http://www.co.boulder.co.us/health/hpe/wnv/ for details and recommended protection products.

    – Timothy

  44. Nick

    @Bill Bones
    Thanks for the tip, Bill! I’ll be on the roof tonight in that case, looking east!
    Nick

  45. Hey Phil, I liked your list so much I took the liberty of doing a free translation into Swedish. With a link to the original of course. Hope that’s okay!

  46. Sharoney

    Any good suggestions about where to go in the Boston metro area? I’m tempted to go to Marblehead or Nahant (hoping to find someplace without nightly thugs) but I wonder if they actually have any public beaches.

    Thought about Lincoln area, seems very safe, but too many trees (never thought I’d hear myself say too many trees ever . . .)

  47. Chip

    I have to share this, since its good for a little chuckle.

    The BA is 100% spot on with the 12 suggestions for improved viewing of the Perseid meteors. So last night, before Sunday maximum, I’m staying up late working in my studio preparing a painting for an art exhibit in September. Working under bright white lights, my eyes are bleary and its 2 AM. I haven’t had much sleep and am yawning a lot so I break for the night. My studio is upstairs in a narrow building with a narrow walkway in the back, adjacent to a brick wall and tall trees beyond offering a narrow 15% view of the night sky.

    So now that I’ve quit for the night, what better time; wrong night, no hat, bad eyes, tired, no chair, too small a sky view, too have a look for the Perseids. (Duh.) So I go downstairs, past the kitchen, pause to consider what’s in the fridge and then out the back door onto a little narrow porch. I look up and immediately see a bright fireball. “Wow” I say. What rare luck. I’ll just stand here now and enjoy the night air, expecting nothing. Then I see a little bright streak in the East.

    As I’m going in and locking up the thought occurs, maybe this is a huge unforeseen meteor shower that even I can see despite breaking all the rules of good viewing! I go out unto an upstairs balcony avoiding the potted plants, and bam – I see one more streak! Wow. Then nothing for ½ hour, by which time I really have to get some sleep.

    (* BTW – just for historic interest this weird narrow but comfortable art deco building we live in is the former office of Congressman John Moss, author of the Freedom of Information Act.)

  48. Georganna

    August 13 is my birthday. The party starts sunday with a bloody mary brunch followed by all-day naps. After midnight it’s boat drinks and lots of food. In addition to the Lounging, longeing, long chairs, chaise lounges, yard lounges etc etc, we’re gonna try eastern-sky-oriented pool floating. Here in mid-Missouri the daytime temps have been up to 100s and 80s at night so we’re figuring the hats will be optional, but thanks for the reminder. Bug spray and citronella candles by the pool, I’m so glad I don’t have school! Thank you new moon.

  49. CR

    Well, I was going to go out tonight (Aug 12) to see if I could see anything, but clouds have moved in.
    Normally, that would bum me out, but these are lightning-charged storm clouds, so at least I’ve got an exciting thing blocking my view of a different exciting thing! (Wow, the wind is picking up. And the rain. I wonder if it’s going to hail… maybe I should get my plants inside. I definitely should log off from the computer, though. Ta!)

  50. madman

    I’m in San Francisco and going NUTS. This town is good for a lot of things, but stargazing is definitely not one of them, thanks to urban light bouncing off our famous fog, and hills and buildings and did I mention light everywhere. Phooey! I’ll have to go quite a distance, I think, for a chance to see the Perseids. Anyone else out there around here, so to say? Where do YOU go for some dark, clear sky? (And what are these things called “mosquitoes” that people seem to be so excited about?)

    I’m ready to get on a plane for Arizona or someplace else close and clear, get away from the airport area lights, lie back, view, and return Monday. Suggestions welcome.

  51. Skeptigirl

    Meteor showers, one of my favorite things. I just booked a studio loft in someone’s house just out of Ellensburg, WA. The owners say they have a big sky view from the backyard and it’s the darkest rental in area. (Not quite a Bed&Breakfast but something like that.) That just leaves the problem of the clouds clearing but if they don’t I’ll drive further east and return to the B&B for sleep in the wee hours.

    In the past I’ve gone camping almost every Aug 12 with my son. But he’s got a job and can’t go this year. This place is only about 1.5 hours away and looks promising on the web site. So I’m off by myself. I can’t explain the attraction except to say people go to similar efforts to watch fireworks and they are mostly the same every year.

    Blanket and mosquito repellent, definitely. I suppose where there is a heat wave currently you can skip the blanket. But it is a tad colder at night when you are lying still than when you are up and about.

    In 1998 (Nov.) we were in the high desert N of Phoenix for the Leonid’s Storm. It was in the high 80s during the day. At night we had 2 down coats, down sleeping bags and only our heads out of the tent and we were still freezing. But it was a night of fireballs and well worth the pain.

    Edward Cohenon
    Please help me get rid of the clouds and rain showers.

    Perhaps you can do a ‘dry’ dance. ;)

    Oh, and about Phil’s hat, trust me he needs one. ;)

  52. Chip

    Skeptigirl wrote: “…In 1998 (Nov.) we were in the high desert N of Phoenix for the Leonid’s Storm…”

    I’ll never forget that one. We were bundled up with hot chocolate on the edge of a pitch black lake in the Sierra Mountains North of Sutter Creek, California, far from the lights of Sacramento. It was amazing. That’s when we could have sworn we also heard them! At least there was some weird lakeside phenomenon of occasionally hearing high-pitched hissing sounds when a fireball streaked overhead.

  53. Silvio

    Hi guys,
    I’m in Northern Portugal, about lat 41, iberic peninsula, and can’t really see anything lika a “shower”… oh well..

  54. Jeff F

    Silvio – It’s too early – you won’t see anything much until after midnight and it’ll peak for you *right* before sunrise on Monday. You’re actually in a great place on the planet – from about 5-7am, you should see maybe 80-100 meteors per hour (if you’re away from city lights).

  55. This will be one of the first showers I’ll see in my near 30 years on this planet, I’m looking forward to it! It was fun reading all of your comments too, I believe I’ll continue to visit this site!

  56. CR

    Well, I just spent 25 minutes donating blood to the local mosquitos, but I did manage to see five bright meteors in that time. And I’m in town, right next to a frakking bright streetlight! I also saw a satellite pass overhead. (At least I got to see something!)

  57. CR

    By the way, the meteors weren’t “bolide bright,” mind you, but bright enough to match & even outshine many stars. Two of the meteors were at least as bright as Jupiter, which is also in view from my location tonight.

  58. Chris

    I just went out from about 12am (EST) until 1am and got to see 7, bringing my grand lifetime total to 8. The first meteor I ever saw was total luck- I was a little kid and we were driving home at night, when I started staring out the window and saw one. I’ll never forget that :)

    Unfortunately, we don’t have the best viewing conditions around here. The darkest place within reasonable distance is the town park (it’s technically closed, but as long as the cops don’t catch me, it’s legal), which is lined on the whole south side by street lights. It’s surrounded by trees, which along with the light effectively cuts off a good quarter of the eastern sky. Plus I can’t find my folding lawn chairs, so I was forced to hunch over a picnic table with my sweatshirt hood pulled to one side to block out the light :D

    It was still the coolest thing I’ve gotten to do since spending a evening over at my college’s observatory though (got to peek at Saturn). Awesome, cool, nifty, and exciting, plus it was the first time I’ve been out for long enough when it was dark enough to see the Milky Way.

  59. Hey I just got back in… the clouds started obstructing my view. I saw a total of five, possibly six. I saw the first two/three around 1:20am EST and then the rest around 1:45am – 2:15am. I’m probably going to go back out in 15 minutes. Thanks for the info!

  60. I saw a total of 9 we stayed out al evening after a BBQ and it was an awesome evening first time ive ever seen them.

  61. Alex

    Sunday night here in S.E. England provided excellent conditions for viewing, clear enough to see the Milky Way.

    I saw at least half a dozen meteroites between 12.15 – 1.00 am.

    The most spectular looked like a firework with a broad shower of sparks bursting behind it, persisting for what seemed like 2-3 secs.

    A high flying plane’s lights some minutes before subjectively appeared much higher in the atmosphere – no doubt an illusion.
    But I’d imagine that a passenger aboard might have felt a slight twinge of anxiety peering through the window.

    Definitely the best meteorite spotting I’ve had, both in terms of numbers and intensity.

  62. Moxy

    Suburbs of Chicago are not generally a good place for this type of thing. You never seem to realize just how many places leave some very bright lights on over night. Car dealerships seem to be the most guilty in this regard.

    I was pretty lucky to see two on Saturday night, when I just happened to be outside. One was a pretty big fireball type that I still can’t believe I happened to see. Sunday night/Monday morning we went out at 3am, but the conditions were less than optimal. Seemed to be a bit cloudy/hazy, and even though we tried to get away from the lights, they were still a problem. During the 15-20 mosquito bite filled minutes we were outside, we managed to see 4-5 pretty bright ones.

    A fairly successful night, even if I’ll be paying for it (mosquito bites!) for the next few days. It may be a hell of a lot colder out, but at least the Geminids will be mosquito free!

  63. MichaelS

    Well, I didn’t get to watch for a long period of time, but I sat out at the drag strip after all the lights went out. It’s quite a ways outside of town (I assume because of noise levels), which means there aren’t city lights to interrupt. I saw one that was very bright (I actually saw it past the stadium lighting before they shut the lights off), but otherwise didn’t see anything too incredible. Regardless, sitting outside staring at the sky is always a good thing, so I’m not disappointed.

    I do find it a bit odd that everybody talks about meteor showers as if you can’t ever see a metor otherwise. At 60 per hour, that’s 1 per minute (oh the math!); on a normal night at Mt. Lemmon where I’m there about an hour, I usually see 3 or 4 metors. Given that a third to half the sky is covered by mountains, and I am rarely actively looking for them, it seems that the actual rate is probably much higher; maybe once every 5 minutes or so (this number is roughly supported by when I am actively looking at the sky). Obviously, 5 – 10 times the rate is a nice thing, but it’s not like it’s 500 times the rate, which seems to be more in line with what the average person thinks.

    I often hear people exclaim “oh my god, it’s a shooting star!”, like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime sight. If I were to watch the sky for 10 minutes and *not* see one, I’d be somewhat surprised.

  64. Carlos

    I’m just north of Boston, Ma. Have seen at least one shooting star every night I’ve looked since I moved into my new place 2 weeks ago. Saw quite a few Perseids this weekend and think I saw the same big one last night that Alex saw. It went across the sky from approximately east to west and disappeared behind some tall trees. Looked like a ball of magma with a trail of sparks flying off it. Seemed quite low and I was half expecting to hear some kind some kind of impact or explosion – but, as Alex said, probably seemed closer and more substantial than it was.

  65. Carlos

    Just realized that Alex is in S.E. England, not New England – oops! Still, I saw a big one.

  66. Spent from 1am until 3 in a dark field in the mountains east of San Diego in ideal viewing. Sky was so dark and looked so three-dimensional you felt like you could fall into it if layed still for a while. Temp was a balmy 65 with no wind and o moon. What more could you ask?

    Saw 100+ and from 2:25 until 3 four of us counted 50 in the 35 minutes, but we’d guess there may have been 25% more that none of us saw based on the number of times someone would see one and no one else did. We were surprised to find that about 1/3 of the ones we saw were not Perseids, and about 20 particular bright long trails seemed to originate just below Cassiopeia.

    About a dozen of the really nice ones left ionized trails, and none made any sounds. I mention that only because several years ago near Alpine my wife and I saw one that the next day we both warily admitted seems to make a sizzling sound. I don’t know what we heard and web searches aren’t very helpful-obviously the speed of light and the speed of sound wouldn’t coincide unless the meteoroid was very close.

    Next year were gonna try to coordinate a cell-phone conference call with my my folks in Albuquerque and son in Phoenix to see if we can do a little gross triangulation to estimate altitude just for fun.

    Tried some photos with NiKon D50 and fish-eye (contrary to your advise above) on a tripod using ‘bulb’ setting at various exposures, but no luck catching a streaker (lots of aircraft, thought). Part of the problem was that I had in-camera noise reduction on so a 10 min take would require an other 10 minutes of waiting for the process to finish. Decide against taking LX-90, but next year will take it just to use the mount with piggy-back camera and see what I get. I guess I didn’t this year because last hear it was cold and damp and the marine layer clouds rolled in just as we got settled to watch.

  67. Urbane Guerrilla

    Madman, no need to fly to Arizona. Just go to Mt. Diablo in the East Bay, south of Concord. The Chabot Observatory telescope hobby guys hold star parties up there regularly.

    The famous Bay Area fog can actually be handy for an observer up on Diablo should it come in on those little cat feet. He’s at four thousand feet and the fog doesn’t go that high — but absorbs city lights instead. Darn handy, when it’s Oakland that’s blanketed.

  68. Ben san

    Thanks for the tips. I also found some tips at http://www.tiphub.com/48_Top_tips_for_viewing_meteor_showers.html which may be useful to the 2008 Perseid Meteor Show. Note that these also say to do away with telescopes and binoculars as they will cause you to chase the meteors rather than enjoy the graduer of the evening!!

  69. Kevin

    Ummm… Phil, isn’t the 12th/13th wednesday night/thursday morning?

  70. Katie H

    @ Kevin

    It is this year but this is last years post. It’s linked for this year because the same rules apply :)

  71. StevoR

    Yeah, even Jupiter’s near opposition and thus bright and well placed again. :-)

    Wonder if the BA will link this to next years (2010) Perseids too? ;-)

  72. armrha

    The human body must put out 100-125 watts of energy in heat about constantly. At like a 2000 calorie diet and 1 nutrition calorie being 4.18 kj, so 4.18 kj/kcal * 2000 kcal/day * 1 day = 8.354 megajoules, or about 96.6 watts throughout the day. This matches up with data from a book I read about space exploration that had a similar figure saying each person was like a 100 watt light bulb.

    The primary method that bodies generate heat is aerobic respiration through the expenditure of ATP. Being aerobic, oxygen is consumed in this process for pretty much every breakdown of chemical we turn into energy, and heat is released. According to this page: http://www.acnp.org/g4/GN401000064/CH064.HTML , “Although the brain represents only 2% of the body weight, it receives 15% of the cardiac output, 20% of total body oxygen consumption, and 25% of total body glucose utilization”.

    I think this is pretty good evidence that the head does cause a lot of heat loss. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to be strolling around in a thong or something, but if you are fully dressed and getting cold, there’s a significant amount of your metabolic processes happening in your head — it makes sense that you lose heat very quickly from it. If your whole body releases a constant 100 watts, then your head is releasing 20 watts. That’s very significant.

    While it’s important to always examine what people say (especially the old folksy sayings like that), I think that the ‘hat heat’ myth might be pretty true. With 25% of your metabolism going on in there, having your head uncovered you’d think it would be like having 25% of your body uncovered as far as heat loss goes.

  73. theMark

    @armrha: This raises some interesting questions, to which I don’t have answers:
    – The heat-generating processes of the brain happen inside an almost-closed bone structure, which may (or may not) insulate better than skin-over-muscle?
    – There’s a constant blood flow through the brain, which most likely will also transport a significant amount of heat away into the body – possibly more than is lost directly through the surface?
    – An uncovered head provides quite an intense sensation of “feeling cold”, so maybe it’s less energy-loss-related and more a trick of the senses? (especially to “us bald people” out there ;)

  74. armrha

    @theMark

    All good questions — I can’t say for sure on any of them. I think the face uses a surprising amount of blood, too, but still not certain. I just think the issue isn’t entirely cut and dry.

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