Catch the Perseid meteor shower light up New York City skies
Don't think you can see the stars? Expert Joe Rao gives his tips on how to spot the Perseid meteor shower in NYC.
Tue Aug 7 2012
Photograph: Karen Blumberg
The haze of city lights makes it nearly impossible to see the stars, but even New Yorkers can count on spotting a few fireballs during the Perseid meteor shower from Saturday 11 through Sunday 12. The annual event, known in astronomy circles as the Old Faithful of showers, occurs when Earth’s orbit intersects with the trail of grit left by the comet Swift-Tuttle. These bits of space dust burn incandescently bright when they enter our atmosphere. Joe Rao, meteorology expert for the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium and senior on-camera meteorologist for News 12 in Westchester County, shared some tips on how urbanites can enjoy the display.
When to watch
The peak of the shower, when you will see the highest concentration of meteors, will occur between 3 and 5am on Sunday 12—but viewers should see sparks before then. Rao suggests heading out around 10pm to situate yourself, but make sure you’re prepared for a long night. “There are only two dangers to keep you from seeing the Perseid meteor shower: being drenched in dew and falling asleep,” says Rao.
What to bring
Fortunately, the Perseids are visible to the naked eye, but if you must bring additional equipment, leave your telescope at home—it will just restrict your view of the sky. Instead, grab a pair of binoculars: The magnifying lenses will help you quickly zoom in on the meteors and follow the vapor trails that they leave behind.
Where to look
Set your gaze on the northeastern part of the sky, where the constellation Perseus (for which the shower is named) is located. This group of stars will rise in view throughout the night, but avoid concentrating on any one spot, as sightings tend to occur sporadically. “Just keep looking around,” says Rao. “There will be lull periods when nothing much is happening, but eventually a meteor will come through your line of sight.”
Where to go
“The most important thing about [seeing] the Perseids is to make sure you’re in a place that is as dark as possible,” says Rao, noting to avoid lofty structures or trees that can obstruct your view of the shower. For those who can’t escape the city’s tall buildings and ambient light, head onto a rooftop to glimpse a wide swath of sky above the city’s street lamps.
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