Monday, August 12, 2013

Tips for Watching the Perseid Meteor Shower with Kids

Desert Boy holding a meteorite
You've probably heard that the peak of the Perseid meteor shower is tonight. Are you ready to watch this exciting natural phenomenon? Here are some tips to make the most of it.

1. Find a Dark Spot
We are lucky out in the rural desert to have a very, very dark place to watch the meteor shower. However, we even have some stray lights around. So to make it as dark as possible, we'll try to position ourselves to use buildings to block out that extraneous light. Tip: out in the West, the moon will set around 10:00, so it will be even darker after then. (You can find your moon and sun times for your area here.) Also, use red flashlights or regular flashlights covered with red tissue paper to preserve your night vision. It can take 15-20 minutes to get your eyes accustomed to the dark!

2. Get Comfortable
I've gone for night hikes to watch meteor showers (partly to stay warm!), but perhaps the best way is to sit down or lie down. We're planning on hanging out on air mattresses in the back yard with sleeping bags and pillows. That way if the kids fall asleep early, we can still enjoy the meteor shower. 

3. Be Patient
The Perseid meteor shower is expected to have 80-100 meteors per hour. That's over one a minute. But that still leaves about 40 seconds of every minute with nothing. That can be difficult for little kids (and sometimes adults) to wait. Things that might help are to look at the constellations and listen to stories about them, to join a meteor viewing party so there are more people to talk to, or to play games about where the next meteor might be. (Hint: this is called the Perseid meteor shower because many of the meteoroids appear to originate from the constellation Perseus, which is in the northeast sky under the "W" of Casseiopeia.)

Hope you see some good meteors! (And if you happen to get lucky enough to have a meteorite land near you, send it to me!)

Definitions from The Free Dictionary:
Meteor: A bright trail or streak that appears in the sky when a meteoroid is heated to incandescence by friction with the earth's atmosphere. Also called falling starmeteor burstshooting star.
Meteoroid: A solid body, moving in space, that is smaller than an asteroid and at least as large as a speck of dust.
Meteorite: A stony or metallic mass of matter that has fallen to the earth's surface from outer space.

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