Within a few days of August 12, 2023, the Perseid Meteor Shower will produce a particularly vivid show. Unlike the event during previous summers, these nights will be free of scattered moonlight that brightens the sky. Last year the moonlight masked all but the brightest meteors. However, the Moon will be limited this year to the early morning after 3:00 a.m.
These meteors will appear to radiate from the northeast horizon. As the night progresses, this “radiant” will rise higher in the sky and increase your meteors count. Although the best time to observe is after midnight, you will still see many meteors before midnight (about one per minute).
Modern digital cameras make recording what you see very easy. Since you never know when a meteor will streak across the sky, you will want to keep the shutter open while you wait until one does. This is easy if your camera can take exposures of up to 30 seconds. Leaving the shutter open longer than 30 seconds will produce lines instead of dots for stars, which makes the constellations more challenging to recognize and, in my view, are not as aesthetically pleasing. Later you can inspect your images for meteors, which will appear as faint streaks across the sky.
Mount your camera on a secure stand or tripod and point it to almost any area of the sky. I suggest not pointing it to the northeast because the meteors will appear only as short lines. If you can set the camera to take a sequence of pictures automatically, this will free your attention to observe with your own eyes. Several cameras can do this. For example, small “action cameras” like GoPro cameras can be set up to do this.
With or without a camera, you will experience nightly diurnal rotation of the night sky and the dynamic events that keep stargazers out at night to get their “fix of starlight.”
One of Canada’s foremost writers and educators on astronomical topics, the Almanac has benefited from Robert’s expertise since its inception. Robert is passionate about reducing light pollution and promoting science literacy. He has been an astronomy instructor for our astronauts and he ensures that our section on sunrise and sunset, stargazing, and celestial events is so detailed and extensive it is almost like its own almanac.