Chief Science Correspondent
Perseid 2014 - A Novice's Guide to Meteor Shower Viewing:
1. Find a spot away from any surrounding lights.
2. Lie down and look in the predicted direction.
3. Be patient.
4. Dress warmly.
5. Dress comfortably.
6. Bring snacks.
7. Be patient.
8. Sometimes, those seven steps won't be enough.
I've never considered myself much of a stargazing expert, but I've always held an appreciation for clear night skies - whether the darkness is filled with hundreds of glittering stars, a bright full moon or a brief glimpse at the aurora borealis (aka the Northern Lights).
Although I have experienced the thrill of seeing a shooting star (in proper terms, a meteor) on a few occasions, I had never before gone out to witness a meteor shower. When I learned that one of the biggest meteor showers of the year would occur tonight, I decided this experience was long overdue.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs annually each summer, active from late July to mid-August. This year, the shower peaked from Aug. 12-13, according to NASA. The shower is named for Perseus, the constellation from which the meteors tend to appear. Perseid is the most visible from the Northern Hemisphere.
However, this year's show came with some setbacks: this week's massively bright "supermoon," which reached peak fullness on Sunday. The moon is currently still producing massive lunar glare, making other objects in the sky difficult to see. However, scientists still predict an expected visible 30-40 meteors per hour.
"A warm summer night, a moonlit landscape, and an occasional fireball cutting past a supermoon: that's an ensemble with a special beauty all its own," NASA scientist and blogger Tony Phillips said.
Online guides said viewers would probably start seeing meteors around 11 p.m., but that the best time to watch would be between 3 and 4 a.m. With that in mind, I eagerly stepped out just before 12:30 a.m. hoping to catch a glimpse of the show. Here's what followed:
12:25: Notebook and flashlight in tow, I head outside. Looking around, I realize that there are a lot more streetlights surrounding my apartment than I realized. The moon is shining so brightly that using streetlights seems almost silly. I walk, searching for a spot as dark as possible.
12:45: After trying out three spots, I finally find a corner that seems relatively dark. It's a relatively clear night, and while the sky isn't filled with stars, I can see a few as I look up. I lay back, away from the moon, and wait.
12:48: I think I see a meteor, but I'm pretty sure it was just my imagination.
12:56: I sit up. A small group of clouds is passing through. Bugs are chirping, and there is slight breeze. I'm not sure what the temperature is, but it seems to have dropped considerably from today's high of 88 degrees. It's quite peaceful and though I often imagine streaks in the sky, I'm pretty sure I actually haven't seen anything yet.
1:00: NASA recommends looking northeast for the best view. Yet by my extremely rough calculations, the supermoon is situated approximately northeast from here. I settle for a position facing more east than north.
1:15: I finally see my first meteor of the night - I'm sure of it this time. It went by quite quickly, and I easily could have missed it if I hadn't been looking in just the right place.
1:31: It's getting quite cold, and I still have nearly an hour and a half before the show is really set to start. I head back inside, swapping my flip-flops for boots and my light t-shirt for a sweater. I curl into my warm bed and think how nice it would be to just watch the meteor shower via satellite livestream, the link to which happens to be pulled up on my laptop.
2:38: I venture back out and head for my spot. Bundling up was a smart idea; the temperature seems to have dropped even more in the past hour.
2:40: I sit down and look up. Well.... this isn't good. The sky has been completely overtaken by clouds. Not even the supermoon is visible anymore. I wander around a bit, but there isn't an end to this blanket of clouds in sight. As it's almost 3 a.m., I'm not particularly keen to travel far. But I figure it's worth staying out. After all, it only took an hour for the clouds to form; maybe it'll only take an hour for them to clear.
2:55: I think it's raining. I head under a roof for cover.
3:00: The rain stops. But the clouds still haven't cleared.
3:01: Time goes extremely slowly when you have nothing to do.
3:35: I've pretty much given up on seeing anything else tonight.
4:04: After starring at the dark, murky sky for almost an hour and a half, I finally give up and venture back into my much cozier apartment. Tonight might have been a bust, but I'm glad I went out early enough to see at least one meteor. And I'm definitely going to try again next year.
If you didn't get to see the Perseid meteor shower last night either, you may be in luck: The shower should be visible tonight as well. I'm planning to try again, although I don't have particularly high hopes as the sky outside my apartment seems to be cloudy tonight.
If you didn't catch the Perseids, the American Meteor Society predicts the appearance of four meteor showers from September to November (The exact dates have not yet been determined). For more information, visit http://www.amsmeteors.org/meteor-showers/meteor-shower-calendar.