Here Come the Perseids!
That, anyway, is the prediction if your sky is good and dark. But even if you live under moderate light pollution, as most people do, you can catch at least the brightest of the Perseids.
This "Old Faithful" of meteor showers reaches its broad maximum around mid-August. Fortunately, the Perseids stay active for several days before and after their peak.
Be patient, and give your eyes plenty of time to adapt to the darkness. The direction to watch is not necessarily toward Perseus but wherever your sky is darkest, probably straight up.
Much more enjoyable than informal watching, however, is making a scientific meteor count by standardized methods. This way you can contribute to our ongoing knowledge of how the Perseid shower changes from year to year.
To do this you'll need a fairly dark sky, preferably in which you can see stars to at least magnitude 5.5 with your naked eyes. You'll need a watch and either a notepad and pencil or a tape recorder into which to dictate notes.
Once you're settled in, dark-adapted, and ready to start, note the time. Whenever you see a meteor, note it with either P for Perseid or NP for non-Perseid, depending on whether its path, if traced far enough back across the sky, would intersect northern Perseus. It's also highly desirable, though not essential, to estimate each meteor's peak magnitude.
Most of the time nothing will be happening. Use this time to find your naked-eye limiting magnitude in the part of the sky you're watching (charts for this purpose are on the Web sites listed below), and note this along with the time. Do it again if sky conditions or your dark adaptation change.
It's okay to take an occasional break; note the time when you stop watching and when you start again. You should note down the time about every half hour in any case.
Finally, estimate what percentage of your view is obstructed by trees, buildings, or clouds (not counting the outermost part of your peripheral vision, which is mostly insensitive to meteors anyway). If the amount of obstruction changes, such as by clouds coming and going, note a new estimate and the time. Quit if the obstruction becomes more than 20 percent.
If two or more people observe together, each needs to make his or her own separate count, limiting-magnitude estimate, and other notes completely uninfluenced by anyone else. Work exactly as if alone. You may want to face different directions, and talk about other topics.
The purpose of all this is to give your numbers meaning; that is, to make them convertible to the standard measure of the true meteor activity: the zenithal hourly rate, or ZHR. This is the number of meteors that would be seen by a single observer per hour if the shower’s radiant were at the zenith, if the view were unobstructed, and if the sky were dark enough for 6.5-magnitude stars to be visible.
A good activity profile a graph of how the ZHR behaves from the shower's beginning to end requires many thousands of meteors counted the same way by many observers. Ideally, the counters should be spaced all around the globe to keep the shower under continuous, 24-hour watch for several days running. The more good counts are made, the more accurately the final graph will represent the shower's actual behavior. Observers are especially needed at Earth's sparsely populated longitudes, as well as at longitudes that are mostly clouded out.
Official instructions, star maps for finding your naked-eye limiting magnitude, and report forms for submitting your observations are on the International Meteor Organization’s Web site at www.imo.net/visual/major01.html, and also on the North American Meteor Network’s site at www.namnmeteors.org/. You can report your observations to either group; data are shared between them.
The central Internet hangout for meteor observers, full of news and comment, is www.meteorobs.org. After making a count, observers often log on to compare what they saw with their late-night compatriots around the world.