The peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower will be tomorrow on the night of August 12/13 2011. However, despite the fact that the peak doesn't occur until tomorrow night doesn't men that the meteors aren't already streaking through the sky right now. Additionally, the intervening time makes for a great opportunity to learn some observing tricks to maximize the chance of seeing meteors.
Traditionally, the Perseids are a major meteor shower (one of three), where one can expect to see, according to some estimates, 60 meteors per hour. The best time to view is in the hours just before dawn as Perseus is at its highest point in the sky at this time. In this case, 'highest' is a very relative term as the constellation is about half way to zenith in the East-Northeast. To improve odds of seeing meteors, travel out of light-polluted Cleveland and to the country if you can. Even in the suburbs, chances are that Perseus (and some of the meteors) will be lost in a light dome.
Unfortunately, the Moon is going to be an issue this year as it is near Full, which means that it will still be up in the sky and very bright to boot. Basically, this is not going to be the best year for Perseid watching
However, even though the conditions are not the best imaginable, being a once a year event, why not head out to see if you can spot some meteors anyway?
So how about viewing tips?
First, plan to stay out a while, as it takes the human eye about 15 minutes to get optimal night vision capability. The bad news is that, even one bright flash of white light will wipe out night vision, requiring you to start the process all over again. Next, grab a lawn chair or, even better, a lounge-type chair. Trying to lean back with a straight-back lawn chair can be a pain in the neck, literally! Eyes ready for dark and with something to sit/lay on, settle in for a night of hopeful meteor watching (or at the very least, stargazing), just try not to fall asleep and don't forget to dress warmly and bring the bug spray! As a last bit of wisdom, don't forget to bring a sweater or light coat as the Cleveland area weather forecasts are predicting lows around 55-60 degrees in the upcoming nights.
Besides meteors, tonight can be a great time for binocular viewing, owing to your use of a chair. Under suburban (maybe) or rural skies (definitely), a pair of medium power (10x50) binoculars can yield some stunning wide-angle sights. For someone truly dedicated, why not try and keep a tally of how many meteors you see for every complete hour? Really ambitious? Why not try photographing the meteors?
Now for weather. Unfortunately, the the Cleveland weather forecast is looking pretty lousy for next few nights. For an even more up-to date, hour-by-hour forecast, check out the Cleveland Clear Sky Clockto see what the night will bring. Live somewhere else? Find a clockand see if it will be clear near you.
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