Whether you were able or not to view Perseid meteor showers earlier this week, tonight’s peak should still provide a good show despite the interference of this month’s full moon. Moreover, tonight will be a double treat, for coincidentally the International Space Station will be visible (local sky conditions permitting) over much of the U.S. for a short window.
Early this morning from a vantage point in Ft. Lauderdale, with a bright, nearly full moon to my back, I glimpsed several bright streaks around 4:15 a.m. which were definitely worth a “wow wee” (even for an experienced observer like me). Tomorrow morning should be at least as good if you know where, when, and how to look.
The best time to look is during the hours before dawn when the moon will be relatively low in the western sky. It certainly is an advantage to find a rural location to minimize light pollution from populated areas. As I did this morning, have the moon at your back and preferably with a building or other structure (or tree) placing you in the moon’s shadow. Leave time for your eyes to get use to the darkness. Meteor streaks will visible just about anywhere the sky is darkest (away from moonlight) and appear to emerge from the constellation Perseus high in the northeast sky (see star map).
Be patient and stay alert: individual meteor streaks last only about a second, and sometimes occur in clusters. If you are really lucky, you’ll get to see a bright fireball, some of which are visible even in daytime. It’s awesome to know even the brightest streaks are produced by tiny sand-grain sized vaporizing as they crash into the Earth’s atmosphere.
According to NASA, the International Space Station can be seen at different times in almost every part of the U.S. this week. For specific times and directions where you live, take a look at NASA’s Human Spaceflight website. In the Washington, D.C. area the pass will begin at 4:32 a.m. tomorrow morning appearing as a bright star moving across the sky from northwest to southeast.