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The Best Meteor Shower of the Year, the Perseids, Peaks Soon

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The skies should be clear in Joshua Tree National Park on August 11, for viewing the Perseids.

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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.

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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 this August.

When does the Perseid Meteor Shower peak in 2020?

The Perseids peak the night of Tuesday, August 11, through the predawn hours of Wednesday, August 12, when Earth makes its way through the densest cloud of debris from the comet. However, Earth has actually been passing through the Comet Swift-Tuttle’s dust cloud since July 17 and will continue to do so until August 26.

On the peak night, you can observe meteors anywhere between 10:00 p.m. and 4:40 a.m. Night owls in particular will be rewarded, since the peak hour is expected to land between 3:40 a.m. and 4:40 a.m. on August 12, according to the Griffith ObservatoryKeep in mind the moon will be 47 percent full and will rise at 12:22 a.m. on August 12. This means the fainter meteors will not be seen, but you can still expect to see about 20 meteors per hour, if the sky is clear and you’re in a rural location.

Where can you see the Perseid Meteor Shower?

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.

So far, it looks like the weather in Joshua Tree National Park, which is known for its stargazing, will be clear the night of August 11. The sky should also be clear on Tuesday night within northwestern Nevada’s Massacre Rim International Dark Sky Sanctuary, one of the five Certified IDA International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in the United States. 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 and cloud cover are forecasted throughout the eastern part of the United States, which could make it harder to see the meteor shower from the other side of the country.

Do you need any special gear to watch the Perseids?

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:

Buy now: Nemo Stargaze Recliner Luxury Chair, $220, rei.com

Buy now: Rumpl Original Puffy Blanket, $99, rumpl.com

Buy now: Black Diamond Spot 325 Headlamp, $40, rei.com

When is the next major meteor shower in 2020?

If you’re unable to take in the Perseids in August, the next major meteor shower—the Orionids—will peak the evening of October 20, through the predawn hours of October 21, according to the American Meteor Society. The moon is expected to be 23 percent full that night, and you can expect between 10 to 20 meteors per hour. The entire Orionid meteor shower is active between October 2 and November 7, 2020. 

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