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Eisenhower Astronomer Offers Tips for Watching Perseids Meteor Shower

Follow these suggestions to make the most of the annual shower.

will offer a beautiful display when it peaks Saturday night and Sunday morning.

The shower splashes through the sky every year in early August when Earth passes through the comet Swift-Tuttle's orbit and sweeps up some of this debris. We see shooting stars—rapid streaks of light—as the tiny rocks encounter the thin upper atmosphere of the Earth and the air is heated to incandescence.

Hopkins Patch talked with volunteer Ron Schmit about the best ways to watch the shower. Schmit, whose day job is providing tech support for nuclear power plants, has introduced visitors to the observatory for about 15 years. Here are his tips for watching this weekend’s meteor shower.

  • Early in the morning beats late at night: The meteors aren’t falling to Earth. The planet is just plowing through a cloud of dust. Schmit said the rotation of the Earth means watching the shower during the night is like being on the back of a boat: You’ll still catch some spray but won’t be hitting it full force. Viewers at that time might see five to 15 meteors per hour. But as the Earth rotates, it’s like you’re moving closer and closer to the front of the boat. The best time is 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. when our point on Earth will be plowing right into the dust cloud. That can mean as many as 40 to 60 meteors per hour. The downside: “It’s tough for little kids.”
  • Find a place with few lights and a broad horizon: It's best to find an open area away from city lights. Both and are options in Hopkins, but places outside the lights of the metro area are even better. The Onan Observatory at Baylor Regional Park in Noorwood Young America just west of the Twin Cities is an option. Or for something a little more unique, Schmit recommends grabbing a boat and heading onto Lake Minnetonka where it’s dark and open. Bonus: It’s also bug free out on the water. “It’s fantastic.”
  • Look to the east: The Perseids get their name because they seem to emanate from the constellation Perseus. But the rotation of the Earth and other factors means meteors won’t always appear near the constellation to viewers on the ground. Schmit recommends facing generally to the east.
  • Kick back: Meteors won’t usually be seen near the horizon, so Schmit suggests reclining back to look up at the night sky. “The best place to watch is to just get a lawn chair and lay back.
  • Plan other options: Waiting on meteors to appear isn’t necessarily exciting—especially for little ones. So Schmit recommends using the waiting periods to look at other features in the night sky in between watching meteors.

 

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