The big meteor shower of the year, the Perseids, peaks this weekend and promises a good show for all who can find dark skies and have the patience to enjoy them. The Moon will generally cooperate with viewers since it will only interfere very late into the night, and even then will only cast a small amount of glare on an otherwise exciting event.
The Perseids are a regular meteor shower that peak over one or two days each August as the Earth plunges into a stream of particles from the comet Swift-Tuttle. As we impact these particles at tens of thousands of miles per hour, we enjoy a spectacle of shooting stars darting across our night sky, sometimes one per minute, sometimes less or even sometimes more. Your ability to see more meteors depends upon three things: (a) dark sky, (b) dark adaptation, and (c) lateness of the night. The darker the sky, the fainter the meteors you will see. The longer you are in your dark environment, the better your eyes will adapt to the dark and enable you to see fainter objects. And finally, later in the night the Earth is intercepting more and more meteors, right up until the first light of dawn.
The shower peaks on Saturday night August 11th and Sunday night August 12th. Your best bet in the San Francisco Bay Area will be locations away from city lights with good views across the entire sky, but in particular with a good eastern horizon.
EarthSky has a helpful article about the Perseids. From EarthSky: "They radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus the Hero. You don’t need to know Perseus to watch the shower because the meteors appear in all parts of the sky. The Perseids are considered by many people to be the year’s best shower, and often peak at 50 or more meteors per hour in a dark sky."
A Weekend at Conway Observatory
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