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The skies should be clear in Joshua Tree National Park on August 11, for viewing the Perseids.
You can see the Perseids from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere where the skies are clear and dark enough on the night of August 11.
December’s Geminids are known for being the strongest meteor shower of the year, typically generating 75 visible meteors per hour in a rural and moonless sky. But the best meteor shower to watch each year in the Northern Hemisphere? That title goes to the Perseids, because they peak on warm summer nights each August and deliver roughly 50 visible meteors per hour under the same conditions.
Each year, the Perseids appear to radiate out from the constellation Perseus, which is how the shower gets its name. But the bright streaks of light we see on Earth are actually coming from the trail of debris the Comet Swift-Tuttle leaves behind as we cross through its path. When the comet’s debris—or meteoroids—enter Earth’s atmosphere, they heat up, leaving a bright streak of light across the sky.
Here’s how to catch the show in August 2021.
The Perseids peak the night of Wednesday, August 11, through the predawn hours of Thursday, August 12, when Earth makes its way through the densest cloud of debris from the comet. However, Earth will pass through the Comet Swift-Tuttle’s dust cloud starting July 17 and will continue to do so until August 26, so you can try viewing the meteors the nights before and after the peak night as well.
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In 2021, the moon will only be 13 percent full and will set in the early evening on the peak night of the Perseids. This means you can expect dark skies—provided you’re in a rural area with little to no light pollution from humans. The Perseids are a meteor shower for night owls: The best viewing is expected between midnight and the hours before dawn.
You can see the Perseids from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere where the skies are clear the night of August 11. For the best views, you’ll want to be somewhere with little to no light pollution, so you’ll need to get out of the city and to a more remote location.
The weather in Joshua Tree National Park, which is known for its stargazing, is typically clear in August. Northwestern Nevada’s Massacre Rim International Dark Sky Sanctuary, one of the five Certified IDA International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the United States, is also a safe bet for good weather. While not as remote as dark sky sanctuaries, there are also many more Dark Sky Parks in the United States, which are publicly or privately owned spaces that implement good outdoor lighting (you’ll find many popular national and state parks on the full list of Dark Sky Parks).
Unfortunately, scattered thunderstorms are fairly typical in August throughout the eastern part of the United States, which usually makes it harder to see the meteor shower from the other side of the country.
You won’t need a telescope, since the Perseids are bright enough to see with the naked eye. However, NASA recommends giving yourself about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, so you’ll want to stay warm and have something comfortable to sit on while you acclimate.
A reclining camp chair can help prevent a sore neck the next day, a packable puffy blanket will keep things cozy, and a headlamp with a red-light setting helps illuminate the path to your stargazing spot without introducing unwanted light to the area. Here are some of our favorite gear picks for each of those scenarios:
If you’re unable to take in the Perseids in August, the next major meteor shower—the Orionids—peaks the evening of October 20, through the predawn hours of October 21, according to the American Meteor Society. Unfortunately, the moon is expected to be 100 percent full that night, making it difficult to see the 10 to 20 meteors per hour this shower produces. The entire Orionid meteor shower is active between October 2 and November 7, 2021.
This article was originally published on August 6, 2020; it was updated on July 15, 2021, with current information.
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