“In the great meteor shower of August, the Perseid, I wail all day for the shooting stars I miss. They’re out there showering down, committing hara-kiri in a flame of fatal attraction, and hissing perhaps at last into the ocean. But at dawn what looks like a blue dome clamps down over me like a lid on a pot. The stars and planets could smash and I’d never know. “ Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
The Perseids meteor shower has begun, although the peak of the shower doesn’t occur until August 12 and 13, 2011, according to earthsky.org , so the best viewing would normally be the early morning hours of those dates. But a full moon on the 12th will make the sky too bright for optimal viewing (although it will still be worth going out for a look).
Although the Delta Aquarids meteor shower is better seen from the southern hemisphere, the dark sky of the new moon may make the Delta Aquarids a more visibly spectacular show than the Perseids meteor shower this year.
The best time for viewing meteor showers is between midnight and dawn. According to Chris Hardman in the 2011 Ecological Calendar, “Meteor showers are usually best observed after midnight because a portion of the sky seen then includes the area ahead of Earth’s orbital path, and oncoming meteors are more likely to graze the atmosphere.
You’ve probably noticed that Phoenix is not known for stargazing. The high level of light pollution makes for extremely poor visibility at night. But the area outside Tucson is known for its incredible night skies, and even closer to home, you can find great viewing spots in the Superstition Mountains or just about anywhere you can get away from the city lights as much as possible.
A good bet, if you can stand the warm nights, would to plan a camping trip to one of our Regional Parks that offers camping such as Lake Pleasant, McDowell Mountain or Cave Creek.
Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Mountains also offers camping. In fact, on Saturday, July 30, 2011, Lost Dutchman State Park is hosting an evening of “Astronomical Edutainment” from 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. with Mr. Steven Kates, aka Dr. Sky. Although the program occurs before optimal meteor shower viewing, you’d get the chance to learn more about the night sky and possibly see a shooting star or two at the same time.
For comfortable meteor shower viewing, find a spot where you can lie down, or bring along a reclining chair, a Thermarest or any kind of ground pad to prevent neck pain from staring into the sky. Allow time for your eyes to adjust to the dark, and if you have to use a flashlight, use the kind with a red cover, which will allow you to retain your night vision without having to start adjusting all over again.