It's August, and that means it's time for one of the best meteor showers of the year, the Perseids. This shower occurs every year around August 11-12-13, bringing with it the promise of 50-100 meteors per hour under ideal viewing conditions. There are a lot of great resources on the web to learn about it (see below). For San Francisco and Bay Area residents, here are my thoughts on how to best enjoy it.
In the City: San Francisco and the Bay Area have a bit too much light pollution to see all of the meteors clearly, but you will certainly see some within city limits. The most important things are (a) to have a broad horizon with a view of as much of the sky as possible, and (b) to situate yourself in as dark of a spot as you can find, ideally shaded from streetlights or houselights. Let your eyes adapt and look overhead; you could see 5-10 per hour.
Outside the City: The best way to enjoy a meteor shower is outside of city limits, where darkness prevails and you have a broad view of the sky. As with any stargazing endeavor, you want to dress warmly and bring along creature comforts such as a sleeping bag, lawn chair, and a warm drink. Give yourself plenty of time to dark-adapt. And do this with friends -- it's much more fun when you share this with others.
Where to look: Directly overhead. They appear to originate from a spot in the eastern sky in the constellation Perseus, but they will be visible over all of the night sky.
When to look: meteor showers are always best viewed after midnight, when the rate of meteors goes up considerably. The peak nights for the 2013 Perseids are Sunday night (11th-12th) and Monday night (12th-13th), although Saturday night August 10th will be a fine night as well, as the meteors start to approach their peak and the weekend is in full swing.
In you live in the Bay Area, join the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers high atop Mt. Tamalpais for a full evening of astronomy and meteor watching on Saturday 10th. We'll have a lecture, star gazing through telescopes, and meteor viewing until 1:00 am. Admission is free. More details here: http://www.sfaa-astronomy.org/
Here are two excellent web resources on the Perseids:
Enjoy the show!
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