The Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Next Week—Here's How to Boost Your Chance of Seeing a Shooting Star

wisanuboonrawd/iStock via Getty Images
wisanuboonrawd/iStock via Getty Images

The Perseids—the most reliable and often the most dazzling meteor shower of the year—have been visible from Earth since July. Usually, each year around mid-August, the meteor shower peaks at around 60 or more shooting stars blazing across the sky every hour. In 2019, the spectacle occurs just days apart from a full moon, which will make it more difficult to view compared to previous years. But if you know when and were to look, you can boost your chances of catching a glimpse of the event.

When to See the Perseid Meteor Shower

As Business Insider reports, the Perseids are set to peak the night of Monday, August 12 into the morning of August 13. Just two days later on August 15, August's full moon (also called a sturgeon moon) will light up the night's sky. That means the Moon will already be significantly big and bright on Monday night and wash out many fainter shooting stars that would otherwise be visible.

But that's no reason to stay indoors at night. Though you probably won't see 100 or even 60 shooting stars per hour as have been recorded in the past, you may still be able to see the brightest meteors in the light of the large Moon. Fireballs—extra bright meteors like the one that was reported over New England last month—will be easiest to spot.

How to Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower

To maximize your chances of catching the Perseids this year, look up on the night of August 11. The shower won't quite have reached its peak by then, but skies will be darker than they're expected to be later in the week. The Moon sets at 3 a.m. that night, and any time after that will give you your best shot at seeing a shooting star. Any meteors will appear to originate in the northeastern sky from the direction of the constellation Perseus, but they can be spotted anywhere.

If you don't have any luck on your first try, there's no harm heading outside the night of the shower's peak on the 12th. Anytime after midnight is generally the best time for meteor-viewing.

[h/t Business Insider]

The Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend—Here's the Best Way to Watch It

mdesigner125/iStock via Getty Images
mdesigner125/iStock via Getty Images

We're nearing the end of 2019, but there are still a few astronomical events to catch before the year is s out. This Sunday—November 17—the Leonid meteor shower is expected to peak. Here's everything you need to know before viewing the spectacle.

What is the Leonid meteor shower?

Like all meteor showers, the Leonids are caused by meteoroids from outer space burning up on their descent toward Earth. These particular shooting stars come from the rocky tail of Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. Each November, debris from the comet pummels the Earth's atmosphere, causing meteors to light up the sky at rates that can exceed 1000 per hour.

The Leonids won't reach that frequency this year. According to EarthSky, the meteors would peak at a rate of around 10 to 15 per hour in a dark, moonless sky. But because the moon will be bright this weekend, sky-gazers will likely see less of them, with only the brightest shooting stars shining through.

How to See the Leonids

For your best chance of spotting the Leonids, look up the night of Sunday, November 17 and early in the morning of Monday, November 18. The shower reaches its peak after midnight. The moon will be in its waning gibbous phase at that time, so even with clear skies, viewing conditions won't be ideal. But there are ways to increase your chances of seeing as many meteors as possible. Try finding a large object to stand under—such as a tree or building—that will block your view of the moon. If you don't see anything right away, be patient: The more time you give your eyes to adjust to the darkness, the more likely you are to spot a shooting star.

How to Catch the Transits of Mercury and the 'Demon Star' This Month

Allexxandar/iStock via Getty Images
Allexxandar/iStock via Getty Images

This month's sky-gazing event calendar is all about transits. In astronomy, a transit occurs when one celestial body appears to pass directly in front of another in the night sky, causing the light from one body to diminish in some cases. As Geek reports, there are two main transits to look out for in November: that of Mercury moving across the sun and the dimming and brightening of the "demon star" Algol.

What is a Mercury transit?

Mercury is currently in retrograde (though you shouldn't blame that for any chaos in your personal life). As the innermost planet travels "backwards" across the sky this month, it will make a rare detour past the face of the sun on November 11. Mercury's transit across the sun is something that only happens roughly 13 times every 100 years. Such an event won't be seen again in the U.S. until 2049.

This time around, it will take Mercury about five and a half hours—starting just after sunrise on the East Coast—to make the full journey from one end of the bright yellow disc to the other.

What is a "demon star" transit?

The transit of Algol, also known as the demon star, is a much more common event, but it's no less spectacular. Algol is really two stars in the constellation Perseus that are constantly orbiting each other. Every 2.86736 days, the smaller star of the pair passes in front of the larger star, making it appear slightly dimmer for 10 hours at a time. In the first half of the month, most of these transits occur after sunset on the East Coast, which is the best time to observe the transition. The next is set for November 9 at 3:17 a.m. EST, with the one after that taking place on November 12, six minutes after midnight.

Algol gets its monstrous nickname from a classic villain of Greek mythology. The star is supposed to resemble the winking, snake-haired head of the gorgon Medusa, who was slain by Perseus. Algol is a name derived from an Arabic word meaning "the demon's head."

How to see Mercury's and Algol's transits

To see both of these events, you'll need some special equipment. Looking directly at the sun is never a good idea, and NASA recommends using a telescope with a certified sun filter to watch Mercury's transit safely on November 11. A solar projection box or sun funnel would also allow you to observe the planet's passage without damaging your eyes.

There's no harm in looking straight at the twin stars that make up Algol, but you'll have trouble seeing them "blink" with your naked eye. For that event, a regular telescope or binoculars would do.

[h/t Geek]

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