The annual Perseid meteor shower is my favourite and the most famous stargazing event during the summer. It puts on a great show this week as you can see 60 or more “shooting stars” per hour! The meteor shower lasts until late August but as Phil Plait said the best time to watch is Wednesday night after local midnight - that’s when your part of the Earth is facing into the oncoming meteoroids and you see more.

Here are some general tips which make stargazing better:

  • Give your eyes 20 minutes to adjust to the dark. Any exposure to bright lights will instantly ruin your eye’s acclimatization to the dark.
  • If possible go outside the city, or search for good local stargazing places
  • For the best chances of spotting a shooting star, scan the whole sky repeatedly
  • Here’s NASA’s visibility map from last year:

The meteors are bits of rocky debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle as it orbits the Sun. When Earth goes through the comet’s path, some of the bits of comet dust slam into the atmosphere.
Have further questions? You’ll probably get an answer here.

Perseid Meteor Shower
Not as great as last year but still worthy of watching. The Full Moon will compete with the shower this year, lowering the peak-rates to around 40 or 60 meteors per hour at best, even in the darkest of skies. The peak time is Aug 10-13 but you can see meteors for about a week before and after, so start watching now! The earlier you watch, the less the moon will be in the way, so watching a few days before the peak might actually be better if not the same. For more stargazing events this month, see What’s Up for August. Also, Semi-Relevant/Informative post from last year



There’s Going to Be an Outburst!

Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower at Its Peak Tonight

The last time we had an outburst, that is a meteor shower with more meteors than usual, was in 2009. This year’s Perseid meteor shower is predicted to be just as spectacular starting tonight!

Plan to stay up late tonight or set your alarm clock for the wee morning hours to see this cosmic display of “shooting stars” light up the night sky. Known for it’s fast and bright meteors, tonight’s annual Perseid meteor shower is anticipated to be one of the best meteor viewing opportunities this year.

For stargazers experiencing cloudy or light-polluted skies, a live broadcast of the Perseid meteor shower will be available via Ustream overnight tonight and tomorrow, beginning at 10 p.m. EDT.

“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of Aug. 11-12,” said Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Alabama. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”

Every Perseid meteor is a tiny piece of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 133 years. When Earth crosses paths with Swift-Tuttle’s debris, specks of comet-stuff hit Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate in flashes of light. These meteors are called Perseids because they seem to fly out of the constellation Perseus.

Most years, Earth might graze the edge of Swift-Tuttle’s debris stream, where there’s less activity. Occasionally, though, Jupiter’s gravity tugs the huge network of dust trails closer, and Earth plows through closer to the middle, where there’s more material.

This is predicted be one of those years!

Learn more about the Perseids!

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space.

NASA is predicting up to 100 per hour radiating from Perseus during the overnight hours of Wednesday the 12th and Thursday the 13th. 

Here’s how to see it:

1. Drive as far away from the city as you can.

2. Pick the darkest area you can find and face northeast, toward Casseopeia and Perseus. The prime viewing time will be 4am Eastern.

3. Kick back and watch the show.

4. Tweet your best pics, or send them to Tariq Malik, the managing editor at (

5. Call in sick.

6. Go to bed.


We hope tonight* you will stay off tumblr long enough to catch the entirely new Camelopardalids meteor shower, which promises be a good one. Comet dust from 209P/LINEAR, sloughed off 200 years ago in its orbit around the sun is due to enter our atmosphere and provide us a remarkable show. That is provided you find somewhere with clear skies away from sources of light.

Sidereus Nuncius, sometimes called Starry Messenger, is a short work by Galileo Galilei in 1610–or almost 200 years before 209P/LINEAR laid the groundwork for tonight’s show. Above is the verso of Galileo’s drawings of the Pleiades star cluster, which makes an exceptional background for our shooting stars. The edition is available for view online in our Heralds of Science collection, a set of books donated to the Smithsonian Libraries by noted book collector and founder of the Burndy Library, Bern Dibner. Our Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology is named in his honor.

Make Galileo proud.

(*Just fyi: this was originally posted on May 23, 2014—the “tonight” we were referring to. Hoping this slight edit will help with any confusion and unnecessary time away from tumblr. The International Meteor Organization has a calendar of meteor showers, if you’re interested.)


These are the depictions of the most intense meteor shower in recorded history – the Leonid meteor storm of 1833. The Leonid meteor shower is annually active in the month of November, and it occurs when the Earth passes through the debris left by the comet Tempel-Tuttle. While the typical rates are about 10 to 15 meteors per hour, the storm of 1833 is speculated to have been over 100,000 meteors per hour, frightening people half to death.
Here’s how Agnes Clerke, an astronomer witnessing the event, described it:  “On the night of November 12-13, 1833, a tempest of falling stars broke over the Earth… The sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs. At Boston, the frequency of meteors was estimated to be about half that of flakes of snow in an average snowstorm.” (x)

Geminid Meteor Shower 2014
Went up to Mt Lemmon again for this one. There were some nice clouds near the bottom of the mountain from the rain earlier that day. Luckily the rain clouds cleared after sunset. I would have stayed out until sunrise and captured more but my lens was fogging up too much, needed some actual anti-fog lens cleaner. Was still great to watch! The next meteor shower peaks Jan 2-4. This is a composite of about 10 meteors. Also on Flickr // 500px

It’s a long weekend, and we’re out of here! 

Are you in the city this holiday weekend? Don’t let the rain get you down, there’s so much to see and discover at the Museum, from special exhibitions to our iconic permanent halls. 

Here are some highlights from the past week:

Have a great weekend!

The Geminid Meteor Shower is coming up next week!
Peaking the strongest on the night of the 13th, with rates of over 100 meteors/hour in some places, it will be another great show. Thankfully this year, the Moon will only be ~50% full during the peak and as long as it isn’t cloudy, the 2014 Geminids are definitely something you don’t want to miss.

When watching, your best bet is to look in a direction that is away from the Moon (to preserve your night vision) and also not directly at the radiant point (Gemini) as most of the meteors will appear a few degrees away from it. The best times to watch are around Midnight until Dawn, but most importantly, Find somewhere dark and bring something warm!
– What’s Up for December?
– The rates shown above are based off the Fluxtimator (w/ optimal conditions)
– Free planetarium apps to help navigate the sky; Stellarium, Planetarium