Today (12th August) would have been Spacelab’s first public meteor observation session on the Island of Gozo, in the Mediterranean. Due to current restrictions however we will be holding a private session with just our family. Head outside too to observe nature’s fireworks in your own skies.
The best time to catch the shower in all its glory is in the hours after midnight but that coincides with moonrise so try to start observing earlier in the night. The maximum occurrence happens in the night between the 12th and 13th of August but you can observe the Perseids until 24th August. Use the infographic to guide you on where to look.
If you’re so inclined tally up the number of meteors you observe, the length of time you were watching the skies and your location. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on messenger at @gozospacelab.
What causes a meteor shower?
In this instance the Perseid Meteor Shower is caused by the debris trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle. As the comet orbits the sun and dissolves into the vastness of space it leaves a tail of debris made up of rock and ice. At this time each year Earth travels through the comet’s trail and these small particles enter our atmosphere. As they do, they heat up and ignite in the upper levels of our atmosphere regaling us with what looks like a shower of shooting stars in the night sky. The radiant, or the point where the majority of the meteors appear to be originating from, falls near the constellation Perseus, hence the name, Perseids. The same holds for the Leonids, Taurids, Eta Aquarids and others at different times of the year.
Where to meteor-gaze
I remember the time (a long, long time ago, as the Once-ler would say) when together with my friends from the Astronomical Society we spent idyllic summer nights sprawled on blankets on the hillside between Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples in Malta philosophising, cracking jokes and recording meteors (ok, among other things). Where best to go nowadays? The radiant of the Perseids will rise in the East so any dark sites to the East would be best. In Malta, L-Ahrax offers a good vantage point. In Gozo, anywhere on the East Coast with a good view out to sea.
Otherwise, Dwejra on the island of Gozo springs to mind of course but any location away from the haze of urban light pollution would do. On the mainland, Dingli Cliffs, Fomm ir-Rih and Bahrija, Mtahleb and others. Allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness, take a red torchlight and most definitely avoid looking at a bright phone screen.
How to observe
Now, don’t you expect to step outside, look up and hey presto there’s a shooting star, make a wish and let’s go back to whatever it is you were doing. Clear skies, darkness and a level of patience are required to enjoy the most intensive meteor shower of the year. Meteor showers are observed with the naked eye. No telescope or binoculars. Lie on your back and look up at the night sky in the general direction of Perseus and Cassiopeia (but not only). Remember meteors are transient natural phenomena so just chill and be happy when you catch one shooting across the dark sky. Happy Stargazing!