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How to maximize your summer meteor gazing


The popular Perseid meteor shower is underway and it'll reach its peak in a couple of weeks. Sky watchers should be able to see. Bright streaks of light and even fireballs. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce has these tips for how to catch the celestial fireworks.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: The Perseids happen every summer when the Earth plows through a cloud of debris associated with a comet. The bits of comet stuff are tiny. They can be like a grain of sand, but when they hit the atmosphere at high speeds...

MICHELLE NICHOLS: Friction causes that stuff to heat up, and it causes the air around it to glow.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Michelle Nichols is director of public observing with the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. She says this year, the Perseids should put on a good show.

NICHOLS: Mainly because the moon isn't going to interfere.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The moon will be just a sliver, so skies should be nice and dark when the shower reaches its peak on the night of August 12 and into the early morning hours of August 13. But you don't have to wait for the peak. The Perseids and other minor showers are already sprinkling the sky with meteors.

ROBERT LUNSFORD: I was out this morning. I probably saw about five in two hours.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Robert Lunsford works with the American Meteor Society. He says all you have to do is go outside, sit in a nice chair, get comfortable, look about halfway up the sky and give your eyes at least 30 minutes to adapt to the darkness.

LUNSFORD: Sometimes you'll see fireballs of different colors that leave a trail in the sky for up to a minute or so, and it's very cool.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The chance of seeing fireballs is also a big draw for Jackie Faherty. She's an astronomer at New York City's Hayden Planetarium.

JACKIE FAHERTY: One can come that will shake you to your core. It, like, scares you.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: She says the main thing you need to bring to a meteor shower is patience.

FAHERTY: You cannot just be out there for 10 minutes. You have to commit to being there.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Because meteors don't come at a steady pace. Some hours will have hardly any, and then a whole slew will come.

FAHERTY: This is not about a quick, you know, awesome glance up, and you see it, and you're done. You have to dedicate, and really, 45 minutes to an hour is my recommended minimum.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: She says two hours is way better.

FAHERTY: Get a glass of wine or a bottle. Sit out there for a while. Give the sky a chance to entertain you.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The Perseids will last until the end of August. The very best views will come in places away from city lights, assuming the skies are clear. If it's cloudy, just try another night. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.

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