In the predawn hours tonight/tomorrow morning, there will be a masterful show in the sky. Thousands of meteoroids from the comet Swift-Tuttle are going to finish their 4.6 billion-year trajectory, finally bursting in fiery fashion upon smashing into Earth’s atmosphere at roughly 133,000 miles per hour. This is a special year for the Perseid meteor shower, because Jupiter pulled a bit more cosmic debris in the path of Earth’s orbit. Because of this, experts are estimating double the visible burning meteors, up to 160 an hour. That’s one meteor every 22.5 seconds, or about 3 per minute.
How to see the meteor shower
Go outside between midnight and 4 a.m. and look up. If it’s cloudy, you might be out of luck. If you have clear sky, you might not need to go anywhere. Laying down lets you see more of the sky, and eases the strain on your neck. If you live in or near a city, or in forest/valley with no good overlooks, you can likely still catch some, you’re just starting out with less sky to work with. No matter where you are, getting to the darkest place you can think of is your best bet. Any east coast beaches are good, because it’s dark over the ocean and the meteors will mostly originate in the northeast part of the sky, over the ocean. The farther from bright city lights the better. In the city, a rooftop might be the best spot, or along a river with minimal lights nearby. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness for 20-30 minutes so the full brilliance of the sky is available. Leave your phone inside or just don’t look at it. Your eyes will not adjust if you look at artificial light.
Where to look
There will be meteors pretty much everywhere, but the densest streaks will likely be in the northeast sky. So just look northeast – you can get a compass app for your phone if you don’t know where to look.
How to take pictures
It’s entirely possible that cell phone video could capture a very vibrant meteor. Just point and shoot. For photography, you likely need a DSLR.
If you’re shooting with a kit lens like an 18mm f/4, you should get decent images using a 10 second exposure at f/4 and ISO 1600 or 3200. With wider lenses (10-15mm) you can use longer exposures, and with faster lenses (f/1.8-f/2.8) you can lower the ISO for cleaner images. Take test shots to see what settings work best, and how you want stars to look. Exposures more than 15-20 seconds will cause stars to start streaking instead of being points of light.
So get far away from lights, lay down, adjust your eyes and enjoy. This may be the best meteor shower until 2027, so even some late night driving is justified.