We often receive questions about viewing meteor showers, such as:
- Where is the best place to view a meteor shower?
- When they say the peak occurs at 1AM on the 12th does that mean staying up late on the 12th and viewing into the 13th or waking up early on the 12th?
- Why do meteor showers peak in the wee hours of the night?
You can comfortably watch meteors from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: like your back yard, deck or the hood of your car. You will want to a nice open place without buildings or trees to obscure your view. Also consider a blanket, reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, and binoculars for star gazing. Be sure to dress warmly enough, dress 20 degrees colder than the actual temperature. The reason for this is that astronomical observing is a very sedentary activity and thus to tend to get colder more quickly and it takes more time to warm up due to the lack of activity.
When it is said a meteor shower will peak on a specific date, it specially means that date, early in the morning (i.e. - 1am, 2am, etc.).
The reason why meteor showers often occur late at night or in the wee hours of the morning is that we have to wait for our section of the Earth to face the oncoming meteor debris cloud the lies between us and the constellation Gemini. Think of it like being in a car driving in a snow storm. As long as the car is driving away from the storm or to the side of the storm you don't see much affect. However, as soon as, the car turns into the storm the windshield is immediately peppered with more snowflakes than the wipers can handle. That's the way it is with any meteor shower. We need to wait for the debris cloud to be directly in front of the earth before we see anything. Also, meteors are actually faint, with respect to day and early evening light, we need to wait until the earth enters its maximum hours of darkness. This usually occurs between the hours of 11PM - Dawn.
For more information about observing meteor showers, check out the following article on Sky and Telescope, click >> HERE.