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How to watch the Perseids meteor shower?

First, you explore the woods, then the sky! Take advantage of a camping trip or a hike to see one of the most beautiful displays of falling stars in the world.

Camping in the mountains to observe the Perseids

What are the Perseids?

The Perseids are a shower of falling stars which takes place every year in August. This celestial phenomenon is the result of the Earth passing through the cloud of dust following in the wake of the Swift-Tuttle comet.

What appear to be falling stars are, in fact, grains of cosmic dust which enter into our atmosphere at more than 100,000 kilometres per hour. To give you some context, that’s more than 100 times faster than the average speed of a plane! The pressure and the heat resulting from the shock of atmospheric entry causes the almost instantaneous combustion of the dust grains. This is why we can only see them for a fraction of a second!

The Perseids are very popular among outdoor and camping enthusiasts because the shower coincides with some of the best days of the summer season. What could be better than a cosmic show on a summer night? The Geminids, a second, equally impressive, meteor shower, occurs in the northern hemisphere in mid-December. Considering the average nighttime winter temperature, it’s no wonder that the Geminids are less well known.

a man preparing to go out to see the Perseids

Tips for watching the Perseids

The best dates to observe the Perseids are usually between August 11th and 15th, but it’s still possible to see them from the end of July to the third week in August. Around August 13th, with optimal night sky conditions, you can see up to 100 falling stars (or more) per hour.

- Consult the weather forecast
Several days before your preferred evening out, check to see if the sky will be clear or overcast. If visibility is going to be reduced, it may be better to choose a date several days earlier or later than originally intended. Even if the display is at its peak, you won’t be able to see anything if there is a curtain of clouds!

- Choose your time
In order to observe as many falling stars as possible, set yourself up in the right spot after midnight or just before dawn – this will provide optimum viewing. Both times are ideal; it just depends on your personal preference whether to stay up late or wake up early. At the beginning of the evening, the falling stars will be fewer in quantity but longer in duration due to the angle of their entry trajectory into Earth’s atmosphere.

- Move away from light pollution
To see the stars most clearly, you will need to eliminate all sources of light. Therefore, the best viewing conditions can be found in the country or far from large cities. If you don’t already live in these areas, we recommend that you pair the spectacle with an outdoor adventure! If you’re camping, move away from (or extinguish) your campfire. If you’re in a city park, move as far away as possible from street lamps and buildings, which can block your visibility. Your eyes need up to 30 minutes to acclimate to total darkness. If you’re lucky enough to find these conditions, treat the first half hour of viewing as a warm-up! Your overall experience will be that much better for it.

- Position your feet towards the northeast
NASA recommends this positioning for the best field of vision. In order to find northeast, use a compass, topographical landmarks, or even the setting sun: face towards the sunset, then turn slightly to your left. Then, just lie down and look up! 

 - Dress for warmth and comfort
Even in the summer, it can be much colder than expected after midnight. If you’re camping, just move your camping mattress and sleeping bag outside for a more comfortable experience. Alternatively, lie down on a blanket or use a camping chair, depending on how wet or dewy the grass or soil is. To stay safe while walking in the woods or natural terrain in the dark, we strongly recommend using hiking boots and a flashlight or headlamp

People camping to watch the Perseids

Finally, don’t forget to bring drinks and a midnight or pre-dawn snack, in case you get hungry. Even if you wish upon a falling star for a magical pizza delivery, this technique has not yet proven to be effective! ;) 

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