Is there anything better than lying on the ground on a warm night to look for shooting stars?
It’s a surrender to the stars, and a great way to detox from digital life. In summer, it also comes with the bonus of seeing the Milky Way. However, knowing exactly when to get outside is not as easy in 2019 as it usually is.
Shooting star season is here
The time to catch a falling star is coming up soon, but in 2019, the full moon will somewhat get in the way. The major display of shooting stars every year in the northern hemisphere is the Perseids meteor shower. Running annually from today through August 24, the Perseids peaks on the night of August 12, with the most shooting stars destined to be seen in the early hours of August 13. In theory. In practice, the full moon will rise on August 15, so there will be strong moonlight in the few days beforehand, making faint shooting stars hard to see.
How to find a Perseid meteor
It’s for that reason you should start looking for shooting stars emanating from the Perseids meteor shower towards the end of July. After all, with 60 meteors possible during its peak, there are ‘strays’ up there already, and they will only get more numerous. Look vaguely to the northeast, though they can appear anywhere in the night sky.
How to find a Delta Aquarid meteor
However, there are two other reasons why the end of July is a good time to go looking for shooting stars. Firstly, the moon will be down by the end of July (there’s a New Moon on July 31 in North America/August 1 everywhere else), and secondly, the Delta Aquarids meteor shower will be peaking. Slated to produce about 20 shooting stars per hour, the Delta Aquarids meteor shower started on July 12 and will go on until August 23, with the peak night July 28-29. That’s perfectly timed for a dark sky. There are also a few minor meteor showers active now that contribute a few shooting stars per hours, notably the Alpha Capricornids, which peak on July 30 (though only five per hour is typical).
What time of night to look for shooting stars
Typically most people see shooting stars while out camping around the time of a New Moon in August when that coincides with the “peak week” of the Perseids, but few stay up late enough to maximize their chances. In fact, the best time to see shooting stars is when your location is firmly on the night side of Earth as our planet is busting into the meteor shower streams in space. That makes the very early hours the best time to see shooting stars, so from around midnight until 4 a.m. It’s obviously best to be under the darkest skies possible.
Is the Perseids meteor shower the year’s best?
Actually, no. The fame of the Perseid meteor shower is largely down to the fact that more people than usual are camping, spending nights outdoors, and looking at the sky. Technically speaking, the Geminids meteor shower in mid-December is more prolific in terms of shooting stars per hour, but almost no one is outside camping at that time so it generally goes unnoticed.
What causes shooting stars?
Earth’s orbit of the sun busting through streams of tiny dust particles left by passing comets and, occasionally, by asteroids. When you see a shooting star you’re looking at these particles burning up in Earth’s atmosphere. The Delta Aquarids are caused (probably) by Comet 96P Machholz, the Perseids by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, and the Alpha Capricornids by Comet 169P/NEAT. Meteor showers get their names for which constellation their shooting stars appear to come from (in this case, Aquarius, Perseus and Capricorn).
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes