06 August 2011

Perseid Meteor Shower 2011

Every Summer, the Perseid Meteor Shower raises the hopes of those interested in the night sky. Being one of the biggest meteor showers of the year, coupled with the fact that it takes place in the middle of Summer, it's not surprising that many look forward to it. However, some of the best viewing of the Perseid Meteor Shower in 2011 will be washed out by the Full Moon which coincides with the peak of the shower on August 12th and 13th.

However, all is not lost. Meteor showers vary in the duration, some lasting only a day or two with a clear peak moment, while others are spread over a longer period of time. Luckily, the Perseids are a longer-duration meteor shower, starting in late July and continuing through mid-August. Although the best viewing is on August 13th, the rate of meteors is already dramatically increasing by August 9th, and at that point in time this year, the Moon will not completely wash away the meteors. In fact, the Moon will be setting in the early morning, giving the dedicated meteor chaser an hour or two to see some fine Perseids before the first light of dawn. So my advice is to look on this schedule:

Early morning Tuesday August 9th: From 1:30 until 5:00 am.

Early morning Wednesday August 10th: From 2:30 until 5:00 am.

Early morning Thursday August 11th: From 3:30 until 5:00 am.

Early morning Friday August 12th: From 4:30 to 5:00 am.

These times are for San Francisco. The start time depends upon when the Moon sets, a bit later each morning. The end time depends upon the time of your local sunrise which may vary based upon your location. Use this website to determine your local conditions. In San Francisco, sunrise is shortly after 6:00 am, so I recommend viewing until 5:00 am at which time the first light of dawn will begin to interfere with viewing of meteors.

As is the case with every meteor shower, you need to get yourself in as dark a location as you can. In a big city, that means away from streetlights and in a spot with a big view of the sky. The meteors will appear to emanate from the East, but they will cross the sky in all directions, so your best view is lying on your back looking up. Get some blankets, stay warm and enjoy.

Image courtesy National Geographic.


The Urban Astronomer said...

Update: saw three on Sunday night, August 7th, around 10:00 pm (even with a bright first quarter Moon shining). It's looking good!

Greg said...

Where would you recommend for someone who lives in SF go to view them? I'm assuming most state parks are closed and can't be accessed by vehicular traffic that late.

The Urban Astronomer said...

Greg - If you stay in SF or the Bay Area, you will be fine going to a local park where there are no closure hours.

The most important thing is to have a fairly unobstructed view of the sky, a place to lie down, and as little streetlight as possible. I've had luck along Skyline Boulevard on the Peninsula, stopping at one of the Open Space Preserves along the way.

With so much fog, the coast is not a good option, although other times of the year I simply go to the beach for fairly dark, unobstructed conditions.

If you can get out of the Bay Area, a campground would be a good place, such as those on the side of Mt. Diablo. i'm not sure of the ease of getting into the park at 3 in the morning, however. Give them a call in advance.

Good luck!