How to catch tomorrow morning's Perseid meteor showerS

Very, very early tomorrow morning is when you'll catch the Perseid meteor shower, the largest meteor display of the year. The bad news is that it's also a full moon tonight, which is going to cut down significantly on the visibility of all but the brightest shooting stars. But don't despair! Here's what you need to know to catch a glimpse of as many meteors as possible.

Avoid light like the plague
We're talking all kinds of light. City lights, street lights, house lights, flashlights, any lights. You've already got the moon giving off tons of it, so don't blow it by checking your indiglo watch out of habit and for god's sake don't look at your phone.

If you're in the country, go find a big open field. If you're in the city, get out if you can. If you can't get out, try to find a high point. If you're lucky, you might find yourself near some trees or a hill that can block the moon from your vision. The Clear Sky Chart website has a great list of optimal viewing locations organized by state, so go check it out.

Once you're all settled in, give yourself at least 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adapt to the dark. How do you know if your eyes have adapted? A good rule of thumb says if you can see all the stars in the little dipper (you should count 10) you'll see plenty of meteors. If you can't spot all 10 it's not a big deal, that's just under optimal conditions.

Know when and where to look
The best hours for catching the Perseids are typically between midnight and dawn, with the absolute ideal time coming between moonset and dawn. You can also use NASA's Fluxtimator to help you calculate the best time to be looking skyward. The Fluxtimator even takes your viewing location (i.e. whether you're observing from the city or the countryside) and the brightness of the moon into account.

How to catch tomorrow morning's Perseid meteor showerS

As for where to look, that depends on who you ask. Some people will tell you to look towards the radiant, where the shooting stars will appear to emanate from (for the perseids this is near the constellation Perseus), but bear in mind that meteors' trails tend to be shorter the closer they are to the radiant. Your best bet is to probably just look straight up, or to face away from the moon, keeping in mind that meteors can appear anywhere in the sky.

If you'd like to join local experts, try looking for your neighborhood astronomy club, and find out whether they'll be setting up a telescope you can peek through with friends. And if there's no local club, you can always join NASA's live, online chat about the shower.

Bring the right stuff
Bring a reclining lawn chair, a blanket, some pillows, a coat in case it gets chilly — whatever you need to get comfortable and still keep your eyes on the sky. Don't try to stand. Standing and looking up may seem like a decent enough idea, but eventually your neck will get tired, and the second you take your eyes off the sky is invariably when the brightest meteors of the night will go blazing by — it's like a code that all meteors live by.

You shouldn't really need a telescope or binoculars, because you'll want to keep your eyes on as much of the night sky as possible. Bring something to snack on, but nothing you have to look at to eat. And finally, bring some good company, so you have somebody to "ooh" and "ahh" with while stargazing on this beautiful summer night.


Top image is of startrails during the 2010 Perseids Meteor Shower, via Adcuz's photostream
Image of radiant via meteorwatch.org