Grab your blankets and your bug spray, the annual appearance of the Perseid meteor showers is here again.
What we romantically call "shooting stars" are actually pieces of debris left over from the comet Swift-Tuttle, hurtling through space at 37 miles per second or about 133,200 miles per hour, according to meteorologist David Epstein.
At this speed they could cross the entire country in under two minutes. This year's peak comes the evening and late night of Saturday into the wee hours of Sunday, so that means that you and the kids can stay up late.
We're in luck this year as well, as Saturday and Sunday nights the moon will be in a waning crescent phase, and won't hamper viewing. (Last year's full moon pretty much put the kibosh on that.) In addition, FOX 6 News weather forecasters are calling for clear conditions with low dewpoints, which are optimal for viewing.
The meteors tend to streak across the sky, but you will want to look toward the Perseus constellation, which is in the northeast part of the sky and forms an inverted "Y" shape.
Expect about 25 to 60 meteors per hour during the peak, but don't expect to see the meteors evenly spread out over time. You may see nothing for five minutes and then four or more in a row a minute later. Lie on a blanket and look up rather than stand. If you stand with your neck tilted up, you will have neck issues in the morning.
On Sunday night, heading into Monday morning, there will be fewer meteors per hour, but it still will be a nice show. The best time to see this will be around 2 to 3 a.m., but if you don't want to wait until then it's still worthwhile once it gets dark.
What else to watch for
If you are watching the show with kids, you can have them try to find a satellite while waiting for a meteor. Satellites are quite easy to spot as they look like shooting stars ,but move across the sky at a much slower speeds. It can take a minute or more for a satellite to cross your field of view.
What else can you find while skygazing?
- Bolides: These are exploding meteors, that leave behind a colorful trail of smoke that can linger behind for almost 15 seconds although most only last a few. Astronomers are indicating that there seems to be an increased volume of these bolides already this year.
- "Earthgrazers": These meteors are best visible from the northeast horizon between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. These are meteors that approach from the horizon and skim the atmosphere overhead like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond. They are long, slow and colorful, and among the most beautiful of meteors.
- Planets: Also seen just after sunset Thursday and Friday night will be Venus in the southwest to western sky with the crescent moon just below. Shortly after the moon sets, Mars and Saturn will join Venus.
Where to watch
Because these showers occur across the sky the only requirement is a decent patch of open sky, away from city lights. However, if you want to make this an educational event, we've found the following "watch parties":
Friday: 7:30 p.m. Milwaukee Astronomical Society Observatory, 18850 W. Observatory Road, New Berlin.
The evening will include a tour of the observatory, a presentation about the topic for the night, and viewing through the telescopes, if the weather permits.
A parking fee of $5 per vehicle is appreciated.
Saturday: 8 p.m., Pewaukee Astronomy Club, Harken Astronomical Observatory perched atop the Pewaukee Library, 210 Main Street, Pewaukee.
A presentation suitable for a general audience, "The Night of the Perseids," will start at 8 p.m. in the library.
Sunday: 9:30 to 11 p.m., Pringle Nature Center, 9800 160th Ave, Bristol. Please dress for the weather. Please call 262-857-8008 or e-mail to register.