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 sky 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, there'll be a quarter moon in the sky 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 full moon rising around 8 p.m. on the 22nd and not setting until just before 7 a.m. on the 23rd. That'll make it tough to see all but the very brightest Lyrids. Bummer!
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!
This year, the moon will be about 3/4 full on the peak night. But the good news is: moonset will be at 12:37 a.m., leaving us with dark skies from just after midnight to dawn.
So, if Mother Nature gives us clear weather, it should 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 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 moon will rise at 7:45 p.m. and shine all night, posing a challenge to spotting all but the brightest meteors.
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 moon will be full. With the moon rising at 4:24 p.m. and not setting until 7:22 a.m., this doesn't bode well for shooting star viewing. But, diehard that I am, I'll still head outdoors a few times during the night, hoping to see some of the brighter 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.