Space debris from orbiting comets light up our night sky on a regular basis, year round. Happens every time the Earth's orbit overlaps with a comet's orbit, to be exact. This looks like fireworks to us, a shower of meteors, and is one of the coolest celestial events we can witness many times a year. Here's how to reliably watch all of them.
Follow Your Local Meteor Shower Calendar
The best way to know what meteor showers are coming up next and when the best days are for you to view them is by following a meteor shower calendar. Timeanddate.com has an excellent one that automatically gives you personalized info based on your current location, using your IP address. You can also adjust the location easily if you are using an VPN or want to know calendar info for another location. This calendar shows you all the meteor showers on the calendar for the next year, with interactive sky maps for each shower, showing constellations and all.
Use Phone Apps to Know Where in the Sky to Look
You can use your smartphone (or tablet) to find where in the sky to look to see any given meteor shower. All you have to do is download a night sky map app, many exist for Apple or Android, and point your device to the sky. It magically maps the night sky, showing you constellations and even meteor shower info.
Recommend these apps as they are free, but many others are just as good:
Night Sky (iOS)
SkyView - iOS, Android
Star Walk - iOS, Android
Best Conditions for Viewing Meteor Showers
You want to be away from city lights and light pollution in general if you can. And also look for a night where the moon isn't too bright (ideally a new moon, where it's as dark as possible). And better still, a night without clouds. Ideally you find an elevated spot to watch from that's away from city lights, high up enough to not have your view obstructed by buildings or mountains or anything else, where the night is perfectly clear and has very little to no moonlight. Not possible for everyone, but the closer you get to those conditions, the better your visibility will be.
What Should I Bring?
Dress for the weather, first and foremost. Meteor showers happen in every season, but one thing they have in common is visibility is best in the middle of the night or just as it becomes dawn. So it's typically colder then, even during the summer.
Bring a smart device equipped with a star gazing/star map app. If you don't have one or are somewhere without cell coverage, you can download and/or print off a map in advance and bring that with you.
Also, bring patience. It can take 20-30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to darker conditions, something known as 'dark adaptation'. So be sure and show up to your ideal viewing spot at least 30 minutes before you expect to see anything. Ideally an hour beforehand. Actually some think around the 2 hour mark your innate 'night vision' ability kicks in, so wouldn't be a bad idea to allow for up to 2 hours of adjustment for your eyes to the darkened conditions. For optimal viewing.
You can certainly bring binoculars or a telescope. Those will absolutely enhance your ability to see the meteor shower. But they aren't necessary. Many meteor showers can be seen with the naked eye, if the conditions are good and you know where to look, and do so at the right time of early morning.
How Long Does a Meteor Shower Last, How Often Do They Happen?
According to NASA -- Approximately 30 meteor showers occur each year that are visible to observers on Earth. Some of these showers have been around longer than 100 years. For example, the Perseid meteor shower, which occurs each year in August, was first observed about 2000 years ago and recorded in the Chinese annals.
Usually a meteor shower peaks in your area for a 1-2 day period, with ideal viewing windows of just a few hours per night. So it's best to plan in advance and keep a close eye on your local meteor shower calendars and weather conditions.
Want to Know More About Meteor Showers in General?
Nat Geo has you covered. After watching this, you'll be more excited and educated on what you are looking at in the first place. And it will likely make you more willing to stay up super late or get up super early just to catch the fireworks.
And if you want some super helpful tips on all the best ways to watch comets, this in-depth guide has you covered.