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Perseid meteor shower 2013: Catch the falling stars.

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Every year around August 11 – 13, the Earth plows through the interplanetary debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. As we ram into this cloud of tiny particles, they plummet through our atmosphere and burn up in an ephemeral and lovely streak of light called a meteor.

This year should be a good show; the Moon sets early, so dark skies will prevail. I have a guide I wrote for last year’s shower that still applies, so I’ve reposted it here. I’m in Australia right now, and it’ll be hard to get away from city lights to see them. 

1) Find a place that's dark. Some meteors are bright and easy to spot, others fainter. The darker the spot you find away from house and city lights, the better.

2) You don't really need to face Perseus (to the northeast); in fact your best bet is to have as much sky visible as possible. The more heavenly real estate you can see, the better your chances of seeing more meteors.

3) Be outside after local midnight - literally, halfway between dusk and dawn. The geometry of the shower makes it more likely to see meteors at that time. To use the car and bugs analogy again, you see more splattered arthropods on your front windshield than the rear one because you're driving forward into the swarm. After midnight, you're on the part of the Earth facing into the direction of the Earth's travel around the Sun, so you'll see more meteors then.

Perseid seen from space

A great place to watch a meteor shower is...from space! In 2011 astronaut Ron Garan took this picture of a Perseid belowhim as he orbited in the International Space Station.Photo by NASA

4) Relax! Use a lounge chair or some other comfortable way to lie out. You want to be facing up, and the more comfortable you are the better. A blanket might help; even in the summer a little warmth can be nice. You won't see streaks across the sky every which way like the heavens are falling; you'll see a meteors on average once a minute or three. So you need patience - which is rewarded when you see that bit of light zipping across the sky. It's quite a thrill.

5) Look up! You don't need a telescope or binoculars or other fancy equipment. In fact, you're less likely to see meteors if you're looking through an eyepiece. Remember, the more sky you see the better.

6) Taking pictures of meteors is easy if you only have an inexpensive camera and a tripod. Set it up, point it anywhere you want - find a nice collection of bright stars if you prefer - and let it expose for a few minutes if you can. You'll have a lot of shots of star trails and nothing else, but if fortune favors you, you'll find a nice bright streak or two in some of the pictures. Meteors!

7) Got wireless? Then bring your mobile device outside with you and listen to the meteors, too! This is actually totally cool, and I highly recommend it.

That's it! If you want a bit more info, I wrote a guide to Perseid observing back in 2007that's still a good synopsis of the situation, too. And again check Universe Today for more.

Meteor showers are a wonderful event, a time to relax and look up. It's a good way to hang out with friends and family, and share the Universe with each other. What could be better?

I didn't realize this happens every year. Quite cool. I will look for it.

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