Perseid meteor shower to be 'really spectacular' against dark, smoky Alberta sky

Pull up your lawn chairs this weekend: Alberta skies will be streaked with bright shooting stars — against an unusually dark sky.

Astronomy professor Jeroen Stil says to head out of the cities for viewing if you can

A stargazer waits for the Perseid meteor shower to begin near Bobcaygeon, Ont. In Alberta this year, the smoke cover and almost new moon will ensure a darkened backdrop for the shooting stars. (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

Pull up your lawn chairs this weekend: Alberta skies will be streaked with bright shooting stars — against an unusually dark sky.

The Perseid meteor shower typically appears in August, but this weekend the shower will be approaching its peak at a time when the skies will provide an especially dark backdrop.

"What's special this year is that we're near a new moon,"​ said University of Calgary astronomy professor Jeroen Stil.

"So the moonlight will not disturb us. So if you can go to a dark place, the Perseid meteor shower can be really spectacular."

The smoke clogging the air in Alberta right now may actually help, he said.

Smoke, like cloud cover, dims planets and stars typically seen at night, he said, but the bright meteors are likely to shine through — and they'll contrast even more against the sky.

"The stray light from the city or a bright celestial object like the moon reflecting on that is typically worse than a little bit of dimming by the smoke itself," Stil said in an interview Friday with the Calgary Eyeopener.

A Perseid meteor streaks over Starfest, a star party held annually in southwestern Ontario each August, in 2014. This year, the Perseids will peak Aug. 12-13. (Malcolm Park)

Calgary and other parts of Alberta are currently under air quality warnings due to smoke drifting in from wildfires elsewhere.

August 12 and 13 are generally considered the peak viewing days, although Stil recommended heading out as early as Saturday night to take advantage of the dark sky.

'Very nice light show'

Between 11 p.m. and the early morning hours are typically the best times, he said, with an average of one meteor per minute. But meteors should be visible any time stars normally are, he said.

This shower is created when Earth cuts through the dust cloud left by comet Swift-Tuttle.

"We're scooping up the debris," Stil said. "They create a very nice light show."

Glimpses of meteors can be viewed through to the end of August.

With files from Tahirih Foroozan and the Calgary Eyeopener.