This Saturday — tomorrow! — night, the Earth will pass through a cloud of debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet, resulting in a fantastic display of meteors streaking across the sky (or through the atmosphere, if we want to get technical). Known as the Perseid meteor shower, this celestial show is like Christmas for space nerds, and I’ll definitely be heading out to the country to see it. Want to nerd out with me? Here are six tips and tricks for having the best stargazing experience!
1. Time it right. The height of the Perseid shower will occur between 11 p.m. Saturday night and 3 a.m. Sunday morning. During this span of time, it will be possible to see up to 100 meteors per hour. If you’re too late (or too early), you’ll miss the best part of the show.
2. Get away from the light. Light pollution kills a meteor shower viewing party like an Enya album in the CD changer kills a house party. If possible, flee the city and find some open space away from street lights and brightly lit buildings and neighborhoods.
3. Lay down. Looking at the sky while standing up is a recipe for a crappy view and a sore neck. Bring a blanket and find a spot with enough space to lie down and get a full view of the sky.
4. Open up your field of vision. When I was a kid my dad used to take my brothers and me up to our field to look for meteors, and he’d drill us on the proper technique for seeing as many meteors as possible. “Don’t focus on any point in the sky,” he’d say. “Instead, open up your field of vision, and quickly hone in on any movement that catches your eye.” The best way to explain it? Imagine the sky is one of those Magic Eye prints–if you focus on any part of it, you’ll just see colorful dots and squiggles, but if you de-focus your eyes, a magical 3-D elephant will appear!
5. Make a night of it. I already advised bringing a blanket, but let’s not stop there: pack a thermos of hot cocoa, grab a few friends, and spend the night outside watching beautiful fireballs fly across the sky. Talk about how the vastness of the universe makes you feel insignificant and debate about the possibility of life on other planets. Hit up a 24-hour pancake house on your way home.
6. If you can’t watch it in person, check out the NASA stream. Can’t get out of the city? Busy writing a term paper? No worries. NASA has a camera fixed on the night sky and will be streaming the Perseid shower live. You can even live chat with a NASA astronomer (who may or may not have a mohawk). Watch it here!