When meteor showers light up the night sky over Cape Cod, it's an amazing sight to see!
There's no better time for sky-gazing than those few nights a year when meteors ("shooting stars") are showering.
Yes, this is a chilly one! So bundle up and grab a thermos of hot cocoa to take with you if you're going out on meteor watch.
This year there'll be a quarter moon in the sky until midnight on the night of peak activity. The moonlight will make it tough to see the smallest Quadrantids. But if Mom Nature gives us a cloudless night, we're likely to see some of the bigger, brighter fireballs.
The Lyrids are somewhat unpredictable. Normally, the Lyrid meteor showers only produce a few visible meteors per hour. But on a good year, the rate might rise to 100+ per hour.
For this year's sky show, there'll be a sliver of a crescent moon leaving plenty of darkness to see the very brightest Lyrids.
This is one of the best known, most watched meteor showers of all ... and my personal favorite, for a couple reasons.
First, the Persieds reliably produce some awesome meteor sightings, year after year.
Second (and maybe most importantly), it's warm here in August. It's a wonderful time to be outdoors, gazing up at the stars!
On peak night for the Perseids in 2017, a half-moon rises shortly after 11 p.m. Moonlight may outshine the faintest meteors. But plenty of larger shooting stars should easily be visible. If Mother Nature gives us clear skies, it'll be a great night to hit the beach and watch the celestial show!
The Draconids (a/k/a "Giacobinids") meteor shower is usually a pretty sparse event with only a few sightings each hour. But on rare occasion, it produces a magnificent display.
The Draconids are mostly seen in the evening hours shortly after dark, so there's no need to get up in the middle of the night to see them. That's the good news :-). The not-so-good news is that this year the full moon will make viewing less then optimum.
With only a few sightings an hour, this is one of the annual sky events that I don't bother setting my alarm clock for.
If you're going to be awake before dawn anyway, it can't hurt to take a peek outside. Who knows? You might be lucky enough to see a fireball streaking across the sky.
In the late 1990s, the Leonids produced the most breathtaking display I've ever seen.
At one point during the night, almost everyone in our neighborhood was on the beach, braving unseasonably cold conditions, watching hundreds of shooting stars flashing through the sky.
That's a rare occurrence, though. The Leonids usually put on a much more subdued performance.
This year, the new moon will give us nice dark skies for excellent meteor viewing.
This is usually one of the best meteor showers of the year, with the brightest Geminids sometimes showing colors of blue, yellow or green.
For this year's Geminids peak, a sliver of a crescent moon will pose little interference for shooting star viewing. No matter how cold the air might be, it's well worth heading outdoors to see the Geminids!
The best viewing spots are as far away as you can get from bright city lights.
On Cape Cod, that means almost anywhere is good ... except maybe the more commercial areas of Falmouth, Hyannis, Orleans and Provincetown.
My recommendation? Go to the beach. Especially a beach that has few, if any, street lights nearby.
(Hint: Some towns have recently begun turning off street lights here and there, in an effort to conserve energy. It's a good idea to scout out a few possible viewing locations the night before the shower, so you'll know where it's darkest.)
Here's the short list:
Thursday nights in the summer (weather permitting), the Cape Cod Astronomical Society hosts a "Star Party" at the Dennis-Yarmouth High School ... home of the Werner-Schmidt Observatory.
Local astronomers set up telescopes and invite visitors to gaze through the lens, as they share their wealth of knowledge about the stars, the planets, and pretty much anything else you'd like to know about the night sky.
The Star Parties are open to the public, free of charge.
FYI: CCAS holds Star Parties in the off-season, too.
For Star Party details and schedule, visit the Cape Cod Astronomical Society website.