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Watch carefully, and you can see meteors—small bits of rock and metal that glow as they burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere—year-round. To get a real show, however, you’ll need to time your stargazing for one of the brief periods every year when our planet passes through the stream of debris trailing behind a comet, resulting in true celestial fireworks.
One of this year’s most spectacular showers, the Perseids, is peaking right now. Want to catch the show? Here’s what you need to know:
While the Perseids will technically run until about August 22, your best chance to see them will be on the night of August 12 and early into the morning on August 13. Wait until the waxing crescent moon has set, darkening the sky. (When this happens will depend on where you live; at Backpacker’s home base in Boulder, for example, the moon will set at 10:35 PM. Check to see when moonset will occur near you.) Give yourself at least an hour to watch the sky, as shooting stars often come in clusters.
The darker of a spot you can find, the better: Viewers under dark skies can expect to see dozens of shooting stars every hour, while people watching near cities may only see a few of the brightest. An International Dark Sky Park is the best place to watch, but any area away from human-made light will do.
Can’t Make It?
Fear not: The Perseids aren’t the last meteor shower of the year. Your next best shot will be the Draconids, which will light up the skies around October 8.