How to watch the Perseid meteor shower in Santa Barbara

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Look to the sky Thursday and Friday night, and you may see quite a show. The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most anticipated annual celestial events worldwide, and this year’s show may be one of the best in a long time.

Chuck McPartlin heads up outreach for the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit, an amateur astronomy club. He talked to KCRW’s Larry Perel about what’s going on above us.

Here are some tips and facts:

  • The Perseid meteor shower happens when the earth passes through the orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle. “Comets are like litterbugs,” explained McPartlin. “They leave a bunch of dust and chunks behind.”
  • The debris comes in at about 38,000 miles an hour. They heat the air and cause it to glow.
  • The planet Jupiter can bend debris trails so they intersect the earth’s orbit more directly – that’s why some astronomers say this year may be more spectacular than usual.
  • Most meteors decelerate and drift down to the earth at the size of a grain of sand. “Don’t clean your coffee table. That may be meteorite dust,” said McPartlin.
  • Go to the darkest place you can find, as long as it’s above the marine layer. Gibraltar or Camino Cielo Road are both good spots, as long as you’re on the other side of the crest to block the lights of Santa Barbara.
  • You always see more meteors after midnight.
  • Don’t use a telescope. Your naked eye is the best way to experience a meteor shower.

Setting up for a stargazing night at the Bacara (Tom Totton/SBAU) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The SBAU hosts telescope parties throughout Santa Barbara, including Westmont College on the third Friday of each month and the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum on the second Saturday of each month.