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Hunting the Perseids

Perseids raining down at Mont Mégantic, Québec.
Credit: Rémi Boucher
Perseids raining down at Mont Mégantic, Québec.
Hunting the Perseids

We all hunt something in one way or another: bargains, butterflies, mushrooms, eclipses…even treasure. But in August, the hunt is on for meteors, and more specifically, the Perseids.

The best known

The Perseid meteor shower is widely known because it takes place at a time of year when it’s warm and when people enjoy going out after dark. The prime period for observing the Perseids is during the night of August 12 to 13, between 2:30 and 5:00 in the morning, though it’s also possible to see a few right after nightfall.

Where and how to see them

Ideally, the best place to hunt Perseids is from the countryside, far from the glare of city lights. What are the best spots in Québec for observing these spectacular shooting stars? Provincial and national parks, or a lakeside chalet – in fact, anywhere that’s far from light pollution. Look for a place that’s safe and easy to access. But remember, though August is hot, the nights can be chilly, especially in the country. Be sure to dress warmly; long pants and a jacket also protect against insect bites. A reclining lawn chair and blanket can come in handy, along with a star finder and binoculars, but all that’s really necessary are your eyes and a dark sky.

Where to look in the sky?

Look to the northeast after midnight: the constellation of Perseus will have risen, so that’s the best time. The stars in the constellation form the shape of an upside down letter Y, which appears tipped on its two arms. The radiant, the part of the sky where the meteors appear to emanate, is located near the stem of the Y. In fact, shooting stars can be seen all over the sky, but if they’re Perseids their trails all point back to the radiant. If you’re in a group, position yourselves so that everyone faces in a different direction, and be prepared for a few surprises!

2015… an excellent year

Last year’s meteor shower was disappointing because of the full moon’s glare. But this year will be exactly the opposite. The Moon will be new on August 14. Under moderately dark suburban skies, far from downtown lights, about 30 shooting stars should be visible per hour during the shower’s peak. But that number could easily top 70 when viewed from a completely dark country setting. Good hunting!

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