We will have the opportunity to see an unusual number of bright “shooting stars” during the late-night hours of Saturday, August 11, continuing into the early morning hours of Sunday, August 12.
Astronomers call this the Perseid Meteor Shower because the particles appear to originate in the constellation Perseus.
The Perseid shower is one of the two best meteor showers of the year, and this year it should be particularly good because there will be little or no moonlight to interfere with viewing.
A meteor shower is caused by small bits of dust and rock shed by a comet as it orbits the sun. The Perseid meteors originate from Comet Swift-Tuttle.
On the same date each year Earth passes through this debris which is then accelerated to great speed toward Earth. These fast-moving particles are heated to incandescence by friction with Earth’s upper atmosphere. This produces the streaks of lights which are often call “shooting stars.”
The ideal time to watch for these meteors in Napa is from about 10 p.m. PDT on Saturday until about 4 a.m. on Sunday, August 12.
The waning crescent moon will rise a little before 2 a.m., but it will be too faint and low in the sky to interfere with viewing the meteor shower.
Peak viewing should be about 2 a.m., when astronomers predict that there will be about 40-80 meteors an hour.
It is important for your eyes to be dilated, so stay away from all lights, including streetlights and flashlights, for at least 10-20 minutes before you can expect to see many meteors.
Dress warmly. Sit in a comfortable lounge-chair, look high towards the northeast. Do not use binoculars or other optical aids as they will limit your field of view.
Be patient. Seeing a beautiful meteor every minute or two is fun and exciting—especially if you share the experience with others.
If you look for these meteors in the early morning hours, you will notice a very bright white star in the northeastern sky; this is Capella. To the northwest is the bright blue-white star Vega; these are the two brightest stars in the sky.
To the southeast of Capella you will see the famous and pretty star-cluster, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. Planet Jupiter rises at about 1:30 a.m. and can be seen between the Pleiades and the moon.
Very bright Venus rises at a little after 3 a.m., so look for it above the eastern horizon.
The Perseid shower starts slowly about a week before the peak and slowly tails off for about a week after the peak, so it will not be unusual to see some shooting stars during this two-week period; but the number of meteors will, by far, be greatest on August 11-12.