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Perseid Meteor Shower: Top 5 Tips on How to Enjoy the Spectacular Event This Weekend

By Surojit Chatterjee | August 12, 2011 8:56 AM EDT

Stargazers who are looking forward to a breathtaking view of the Perseid Meteor Shower in the celestial sky may end up disappointed if the sky turns cloudy even as a full moon threatens to wash out the event by illuminating the night sky this weekend.

The Perseid Meteor Shower is one of the most spectacular cosmic events anticipated by stargazers. The event takes place when the Earth travels through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which crosses the Earth’s orbital path once every 133 years. As the Earth passes through the comet’s path, the planet gets blanketed by space debris – tens of hundreds of small meteors – left behind in the comet’s trail. These meteors zip through the upper reaches of earth’s atmosphere at speeds of more than 125,000 mph and while most light up trials of ionized air, every once in a while, some erupt into fiery balls in the sky as they come in contact with Earth’s atmosphere.

The Perseid Meteor Shower may be a big disappointment after all even as stargazers prepare for the biggest cosmic event in August. A cloudy night sky has conspired with a full moon to make sure that this year’s meteor shower won’t be spectacular after all.

Stargazers who are expecting to witness between 50-70 meteors per hour during its peak (night of Aug. 12-13 from midnight to just before dawn) will be left wanting for more because the glare of the full moon and a cloudy sky will make it difficult to see the fast faint streaks of light zipping in the night.

However, hope is at hand and if stargazers follow these 5 tips, they won’t be left too disappointed:

[1] Find an observation point that gives an unobstructed view of the night sky. It should be free of city lights and more importantly, free of clouds. Also higher elevations and better than lower ones.

[2] One can’t wish away the full moon but the glare can be diminished if you turn your back to the moon or view the night sky in such a way so that in your viewing angle, the moon’s disk is obstructed by a barn, tree or a mountain.

[3] Meteor gazing is best done with naked eyes and not through binoculars or telescopes. Why? Because using binoculars or telescopes will limit your view to a small spot in the sky.

[4] As the meteor shower emanates from a radiant or spot in the Perseus constellation, it is best to keep an eye on it. However, the shower can be seen anywhere as the meteors will flash across the sky. According to Fox News, “the radiant is actually located now in the constellation Cassiopeia, not Perseus, with its characteristic “W” shape.”

[5] Prepare for the event well before time so that your eyes can get accustomed to the surrounding darkness and the night sky. Also prepare to gaze at the sky for at least an hour or two if you want to spot several meteors. Why? Because meteors will zip by in clumps or bunches and long dry spells in between.

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