If you want to catch the Perseid meteor shower in Hamilton over the next few days, you’re in for an early rise.
“The best time to see the meteors is right before dawn,” said Doug Welch, a professor of astronomy and physics at McMaster University.
“But it’s a weekend, but I know that’s implausible,” he laughed.
The annual meteor shower peaks this weekend, painting the night sky with glowing streaks of light. It happens every year in mid-July and lasts through August, but the best time to take in the show this year is when the meteor shower peaks on the weekend.
The dingy weather has been less than ideal for meteor watching, but Welch said they should still be visible Monday night, too.
But to really see it, you’d best get out of the city, he said.
“If you’re in the city, you won’t see much if you just walk out your door,” he said. “If you’re in a suburban area, you might see 10 meteors an hour.”
Your best bet? Hop in your car, drive to a crossroads on a country road, park and look up, Welch says. You’ll likely need to be about half an hour outside the city. The meteors will appear as long, thin bright stripes across the sky, most lasting just a fraction of a second.
There’s two sources of meteors: from the asteroid belt when there’s collisions between rocky things, and from comets – which is what is happening during the Preseid shower.
“But comet material is so fluffy that when it slams into the Earth’s atmosphere at 60 kilometres a second, it vaporizes,” Welch said.
What we then see is the glowing air trailing behind the material, caused by intense friction and heat.
Want to take some pictures? The speed of meteors makes photography challenging. One approach is to put a camera on a tripod or steady surface to keep it absolutely still, then take a series of photos with long exposure times (up to several minutes) — if you're patient, there's a good chance you'll catch the streak of a meteor.
Lower-end cameras may not have a long-exposure feature, but many DSLR cameras have settings that will at least let you manually do a very long exposure by either holding down the shutter button itself or attaching a shutter cable that allows you to do the same thing with less risk of moving the camera.
“There are other showers in November and January, but this is the big one,” Welch said. “This is the one that hits that sweet spot.”