The Perseid meteor shower started just last week, but you still have about a month to catch it in action. And why not? It seems like only a month ago, we were officially welcoming summer with fun summer activities. Target already has out the back-to-school section, and your spooky friends are counting down to Halloween. Yes, there's plenty to look forward to with the start of a new school year. But, if you're looking for the perfect way to slow down your summer, a night (or several nights) under a sky full of "shooting stars" might be what your family needs. Whether you have teenagers or itty-bitty babes, there's no limit to the restorative abilities of a night spent staring up at the sky — as long as you know how to keep it fun and light-hearted. Who knows. You might even find yourself finally landing a chance to have some of those big, important conversations with your teen. Meteor showers are the perfect mix of science, adventure, and magic. That makes catching the Perseid meteor shower the perfect summer activity for the entire family.
What is the Perseid Meteor Shower?
The Perseid meteor shower takes its name from the Perseus constellation, where the meteors appear to come from. They are also associated with the Swift-Tuttle comet, which is believed to be what causes the dust and space debris that form the "Perseids cloud." Don't get too excited about seeing a comet, though. The Swift-Tuttle isn't projected to pass by and be visible to the naked eye until 2126. However, each year Earth, on its own orbit, passes through the Perseids cloud. What we get from that experience is the Perseid meteor shower, which is an incredible sight in its own right. During the shower's peak, observers could witness an estimated 60-100 meteors per hour. That's a ton of wishes to make! (Better start saving up for that pony.)
When is the best time to see the Perseid Meteor Shower in 2022?
The Perseids "started" on July 14 and will continue throughout August. Its peak will take place during the predawn on the nights of August 11-13. This year, however, the Perseids peak coincides with August's full "Sturgeon Moon." The brighter moonlit sky will soften the brightness of the meteors and make them harder to see.
You might have better luck going "meteor hunting" on a night outside the peak. In fact, that makes the window we're in right now the ideal time for a family stargazing outing. The darker the night sky, the better — and the sky is moonless after midnight between the Last Quarter Moon and a few nights after the New Moon. So, if you're OK with the kiddos staying up a little later, that's a good time to try. It just so happens that, this year, that time falls between July 20 and July 31. Experts say your best bet is shooting for the latter half of that span for an unbeatable combo of dark night sky and high shooting star ratio. Bonus? July 29, 30, and 31 are also peak dates for the Delta Aquarids meteor shower.
Still, because the meteor shower lasts so long and our weather can be so fickle, your best bet at seeing the most meteors is to make a couple of attempts. Go on a night that is clear of clouds, too.
Where can you see the Perseids?
The Perseids are one of the most visible meteor showers for our planet, but there are still some places that will give you better access to the shower than others. For instance, because Perseus is best seen in the Northern Hemisphere, it makes sense that those who live north of the equator will also have the best view.
During its peak in a year with no full moon, many people might find they can stand in their suburban backyards and see an extraordinary number of meteors or shooting stars.
This year, you might need to make an adventure of it. Travel outside city and suburb limits, where there's less light pollution. If you have a telescope, bring it. However, it's not necessary. With a dark sky, you should still be able to witness the Perseids' glory with the naked eye.
Any other tips for optimal Perseids viewing with kids?
Remember when you could do these things at a moment's notice, without any effort, and everything would turn out perfectly? You know better than to expect that now that you have kids. But don't let that be why you miss out on this celestial experience. Here are a few tips for making the most of your family's Perseids viewing party.
- Go someplace dark. Head to a semi-local campground or state park where the meteors will be less likely to have to compete with the golden arches of a McDonald's sign to catch your attention.
- Check your weather ahead of time. If it's going to be cloudy, don't even risk it. Pulling your kids' eyes off their screens can be hard enough. Making them put their phones down only to look up at clouds will just lead to disappointment. Wait for a clear night.
- Go with or find a group. Meteor showers are romantic for moms, dads, and even some teens. But because it can often require a fair amount of patience, having a larger group of people can add to the fun. Let your teen bring their bestie or boyfriend. Follow a few state parks on social media and head to one that will have a viewing area set up. (Often, they'll also have telescopes.) Invite the cousins to meet you at a certain spot.
- No, seriously. Parks are the answer. There's something wonderful about sitting in your backyard under the shooting stars, but don't underestimate the value of a nerdy park ranger. For instance, Stonelick State Park in Ohio often posts about observation opportunities. People from across the area will come out for a chance to spread out in the pitch-dark parking lot and stare up at the sky. Many people bring telescopes and are happy to let fellow sky watchers take a peek inside, where you can see the meteors even brighter. It quickly becomes its own little community.
- Bring snacks. While campfires and sky watching can seem to go hand-in-hand on the surface, don't forget that campfires create both smoke and light. Those two things might hinder the view of the Perseids. Opt for popsicles, popcorn, and other munchies you can quickly throw in a tote bag when the mood strikes for a family night stargazing.
- Bring entertainment. You never really know which kid will take a fascination with what's happening in the sky or how long that amusement will last. Bring some entertainment. A small flashlight, reading light, some space-themed books, or super cool space coloring pages could go a long way to keeping your night peaceful. If you're going to a kid-friendly area, maybe even consider packing some glow sticks and extra small flashlights so your kids can instigate a game of flashlight tag in a safe space nearby.
- Set realistic expectations. Some kids won't care. Some parents also won't care. There will probably be teens or grown-ups in a nearby car taking full advantage of the "romance" of a meteor shower, so you might need to repark. Someone from your family (or a family nearby) might have a hissy fit. That's OK. Believe it or not, you can look at the meteors and even enjoy the Perseids without absolute silence around you. What does space sound like? Sure, there are no crying babies. However, it probably isn't silent, either. Embrace the chaos of the universe... your universe.