Throughout the year, meteor showers light up our night sky over Cape Cod.
Of all the beautiful sights to see on the Cape, one of the most spectacular is our night sky.
There's no better time for sky-gazing than those few nights a year when meteors ("shooting stars") are showering.
The mid-August Perseids shower usually puts on the best show of the year.
But there are plenty of other good times to enjoy some shooting-star gazing, too!
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, the moon will be full on the night of peak activity. Not the greatest conditions for spotting the Quadrantids, unfortunately. But there's always the chance of seeing 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, the moon will be setting a little after midnight. So the sky should be dark enough in the early morning hours for spotting some flashy, "long-tailed" Lyrids.
This is probably the best known, most watched meteor shower 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, in the pitch-black hours of the morning!
When the skies are clear and dark, we usually begin to see Perseids flying within an hour or so after dusk. This year, the moon will be just a skinny little sliver in the sky on the night of August 12th and early morning of the 13th. So, if Mother Nature gives us clear weather, it should be a perfect 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 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 quarter moon will set before midnight, so it won't be a hindrance for spotting meteors in early morning hours of November 18th.
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, the teensy crescent moon will set mid-evening, so the skies will be plenty dark for good shooting star viewing. If there's no cloud cover, I'll definitely be out there in the wee-small hours of the morning, stretched out in my beach chair, wrapped up in a big thick blanket, looking skyward!
Where to Watch
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. Any 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.)
What To Bring With You
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.
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