The Best Way to Watch a Meteor Shower

On any clear, dark night, we can see several meteors per hour. These are random meteors and do not all appear in the same area of sky. Meteor showers occur about a dozen times per year and during these, we may see many times more, sometimes fifty or more meteors per hour. The Leonids have a reputation for being very fast meteors. Astronomershave identified several peaks for this year's shower.

Meteor showers are caused by debris from the orbits of comets which the Earth passes near or through. Most are small, from a grain of sand to a pebble in size. They enter the Earth's atmosphere and are heated from the friction of the atmosphere and burn up. Almost all are completely vaporized before they reach the surface.

Image above by George Varros NASA

The brightest meteors can be seen even from the city, but the darker your skies, the more meteors you will see. Try to keep away from street lights and outside house lights. Remember too, that if the moon is in the sky and is anywhere from half to full, it will also cause light problems so that fainter meteors will not be seen.

Meteor showers are named after the constellation they appear to radiate from. Thus, the Leonids appear to radiate from the constellation Leo the lion. Physically, they have nothing to do with the constellation at all, but in line of sight, that's where they appear to originate from.

If you are planning to watch a meteor shower, find out what constellation it is associated with and where that constellation is in the night sky. A good time to watch meteor showers is after midnight when the Earth has turned into the shower. Optimal time is the hours before dawn.

You don't need binoculars or a telescope for meteor showers. In fact, using one would make you much less likely to see any meteors at all because using anything to magnify reduces the amount of sky you can see at one time. Rather, you want to let your eyes relax and not look in any one specific spot. Relaxed eyes will pick up any movement and you will spot a lot more meteors this way.

Image above and below by John Roberts

If you have a lawn chair that reclines, use it as it will help keep your neck from getting stiff and make it easier to look at the night sky. And remember in most areas, after the month of august, the nights can be quite cold and so take some blankets and perhaps a mug of hot tea or coffee out with you.

Where to Look for the Leonids


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