The Perseid meteor shower has started, making it once of the best times of year for naked-eye astronomy. This is one of the most active meteor showers in the northern hemisphere, so if you’re new to stargazing, this is a great way to get started.
We’ve asked Dr Darren Baskill, an astrophotographer and astronomy lecturer at the University of Sussex, when is the best time to see it and what you’ll need to take with you.
Normally, we’d be telling you to wait for the peak of the meteor shower to go and watch it, but not this year – in fact, the peak could be one of the worst times to go hunting for shooting stars. Read on to find out why.
When can I see the Perseid meteor shower in 2022?
The Perseid meteor shower in 2022 started on 17 July, and will be visible until 24 August. “The Perseid meteor shower peaks at 1am in the early hours of Saturday 13 August this year,” says Baskill. “That’s the moment when the Earth passes through the heart of the steam of dust left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle.
“From a clear, dark site, a meteor (also called a shooting star) is usually visible every minute or two during the peak hours – and they move quickly!”
However, the full Sturgeon Moon will fall early in the morning of 12 August. “Its bright glow will overpower all but the brighter shooting stars,” Baskill explains. On the night of 12-13 August, London will see the moonrise at 9:18pm, and it won’t set until 7:05 the next morning.
So, while there will be a huge increase in the number of meteors you could see around the peak, you might instead choose to go out on a night when the Moon won’t be up whenever you’re out. It might be helpful to check a moonrise and moonset calendar and look for days when the Moon rises in the early morning, say, and is set by the time the sky gets dark.
In general, Baskill recommends staying up late for the best chance of seeing them.
“It’s a bit like driving a car through a snowstorm: you get a better view looking forward, as snowflakes hit the car windscreen, than you would looking behind,” he says. “And we are on the ‘front’ of the Earth, as it flies through space orbiting the Sun, at 6am, so you should get a better view in the hours after midnight, weather permitting!”
Where in the sky should I look?
The meteors appear to originate in the constellation of Perseus – hence the name ‘Perseid’. However, you don’t need to whip out a star map to work out which way you should be looking.
“These shooting stars could appear any where, so it’s best just to look directly up, and if you are lucky, you might see a shooting star every few minutes originating from the north-east,” Baskill says.
Do I need any equipment to watch the meteor shower?
No, you don’t need a telescope or even binoculars to watch a meteor shower. In fact, unlike most other astronomy, you’re better off without them.
When you’re looking at a planet, full Moon or star, your object of interest will move very slowly across the sky. That means you can set up your telescope to point in the right direction, and then gradually adjust it as the night goes on and the Earth spins.
However, meteors are called ‘shooting stars’ for a reason: they zip across the sky in a bright flash, and then they’re gone. While we know the area of the sky where the meteor shower originates, we won’t know where any one in particular will appear. So, you’re better off with a much broader field of vision.
The best equipment you can use is a lawn chair, or another reclining chair you can take outside. You might also want a blanket or a thermos of something hot if it’s going to be a cool night.
Find a spot outside with as little light pollution as possible, and lie back so you can see as much of the sky as you can. Then, you should let your eyes adjust for up to 20 minutes without any other light sources – including your phone. As your night vision improves, you should start to see more and more in the sky.
About our expert, Dr Darren Baskill
Dr Darren Baskill is an outreach officer and lecturer in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Sussex. He previously lectured at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, where he also initiated the annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.
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