2011 Perseid meteor shower is best seen tonight
Stargazers, get thee to the closest open space you can find! Astronomers say tonight may be the best time to view the Perseid meteor shower — one of the most spectacular (and reliable) of the annual meteor showers.
The shower, which is visible across the nation, is not expected to peak until Saturday night. But the peak coincides with a full moon, meaning that night's dazzling display of tiny streaks of light shooting across the sky — sometimes as fast as 60 to 120 meteor streaks per hour — won't be so dazzling. The light of the moon will get in the way.
But just because you can't view the shower at its peak doesn't mean it's not worth viewing. The meteor shower began in mid-July and will continue to build in intensity until it peaks. So, if you look up in the sky tonight, you'll still get a reasonably good display without too much light interference from the moon.
The website Earth Sky has some tips on how to get the most out of the Perseids this year. The site suggests watching the skies from 2 a.m. until dawn, and also finding a "moon shadow":
"A plateau area with high-standing mountains to the south and southwest would work just fine. If you can’t do that, find a hedgerow of trees bordering a great big hay field somewhere (though obtain permission, if it’s private land). Or simply sit in the shadow of a barn. Ensconced within a moon shadow and far from the glow of city lights, the night all of a sudden darkens while the meteors brighten."
Space.com has put together a helpful chart called "Windows of Dark Sky Viewing Opportunities for August 8, 9, and 10" that maps out the best times for Perseid meteor gazing in 12 U.S. cities, including Boston, Miami, Albuquerque and Seattle. Here in Los Angeles we've got a window tonight from 2:07 a.m. until 4:36 a.m. On Aug. 10, the window shrinks by an hour from 3:07 a.m. and by Aug. 11, it shrinks again to just 30 minutes — from 4:08 a.m.to 4:38 a.m..
Los Angeles residents, be forewarned: You probably won't see anything in the sky tonight if you stay in town. You'll have to get away from the city's light pollution. Need ideas for natural spots? Here's a list of the best places in Southern California to see the Perseid meteor showers.
-- Deborah Netburn
Photo: Mt. Pinos in California blocks out light pollution from below, offering a couple a view of the Perseids meteor showers in 2010. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times