The last time the annual Perseid meteor shower happened during a run of good moonless nights was in 2007. It turns out that every three years, the same phase of the Moon returns to roughly the same date each month (2.2 days earlier, on average).
So in 2010 we’re on for moonless Perseids again!
The shower lasts for many days, but according to the International Meteor Organization this year’s peak should occur during a half-day-long window centered on 1:00 Universal Time on August 13th, which is ideal timing for skywatchers in Eurasia. For North Americans, the best viewing will probably be late Thursday night and early Friday morning, August 12-13, or possibly the night before.
In any case, prime viewing for the Perseids is from about 11 p.m. or midnight (local time) until the first light of dawn. This is when the shower’s radiant (its perspective point of origin) is well up in your sky. The higher the radiant, the more meteors you’ll see.
Tips for watching meteors
Most important: a dark sky. Here?s the first thing ? the main thing ? you need to know to become as proficient as the experts at watching meteors. That is, to watch meteors, you need a dark sky.
Know your dates and times. You also need to be looking on the right date, at the right time of night. For the Perseids, the best time is midnight to dawn on the mornings of August 12 and 13. But you might also see Perseids before those dates, since the shower builds to a peak gradually. Afterwards, it falls off rapidly. The nights before the Perseid?s peak are probably better for meteor-watching than the nights afterwards. Meteor showers occur over a range of dates, because they stem from Earth?s own movement through space. As we orbit the sun, we cross ?meteor streams.? These streams of icy particles in space come from comets moving in orbit around the sun. Comets are fragile icy bodies that litter their orbits with debris. When this cometary debris enters our atmosphere, it vaporizes due to friction with the air. If moonlight or city lights don?t obscure the view, we on Earth see the falling, vaporizing particles as meteors.
What to bring. You can comfortably watch meteors from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: your back yard or deck, the hood of your car, the side of a road. If you want to bring along equipment to make you more comfortable, consider a blanket or reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, binoculars for gazing along the pathway of the summer Milky Way. Be sure to dress warmly enough. Even the summer nights can be chilly, especially in the hours before dawn when the most meteors should be flying.
Are the predictions reliable? Although astronomers have tried to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain notoriously unpredictable. Your best bet is to go outside at the times we suggest, and plan to spend at least an hour reclining comfortably while looking up at the sky.
Sky and Telescope and EarthSky contributed to this report