Tips for catching the Perseid meteor shower

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Meteor shower 2018. Photo credit: Pixabay

Leave the city tonight and look up, and you may be in for a show of lights streaking across the sky.

The annual Perseid meteor shower will peak just after midnight tonight until dawn Tuesday. The meteors are debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, and they appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus.

Bruce Betts, chief scientist at the nonprofit the Planetary Society, explains, "Every year the earth flies through the debris field of the comet that's also orbiting the sun. And we get to the thickest part of the debris around August 12, 13. And that causes increased meteors when little bits of dust and sand-sized particles hit the atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour, and then burn up. And as they burn up, they create a streak of light that we call a meteor."

Betts says meteor showers happen at different times throughout the year, and the Perseid shower is the "second most productive, with 60-100 meteors per hour." 

There will be a full moon during the shower peak though, which will brighten the sky and reduce how many meteors are visible. So Betts recommends finding the darkest, clearest part of the sky and go into the mountains, deserts, or even a dark beach (but the beach can be dicey because there's often haze and fog). 

Try these places near LA: 

  • Santa Monica Mountains
  • San Gabriel Mountains
  • Angeles National Forest 
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park

You won't need binoculars or a telescope. "All you need is patience and a view of the sky. In fact, it's best to view them just with your eyes because they pop up all over the sky," Betts says. "So if you're looking in binoculars, or especially a telescope, you'll have such a small field of view that you're unlikely to see one."

It will take 10-15 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, Betts says. "Don't stare at your phone and ruin your night vision, and just stare at an open patch of sky, and you'll probably be rewarded with at least a few meteors per hour." 

If you’d rather not leave the comfort of your home, you can live stream the meteor shower here: