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Stargazing on Cape Cod
Meteor Showers & Star Parties

When meteor showers light up the night sky over Cape Cod, it's an amazing sight to see! 

Meteor shooting across the night skyColorful Meteor Trail in the Clear Night Sky

There's no better time for sky-gazing than those few nights a year when meteors ("shooting stars") are showering.

When to Watch for Meteors

January 3-4, 2020 - The Quadrantids

Yes, this is a chilly one! So bundle up and grab a thermos of hot cocoa to take with you if you're going out on meteor watch.

This year the moon will be a little more than half-full on the night of peak activity. The moonlight will hinder viewing somewhat. But if Mom Nature gives us a cloudless night, we might be able to see a few of the bigger, brighter fireballs.

  • Best Viewing Time: From about 2 a.m. to just before dawn on January 4th

  • Average Rate: 40+ meteors per hour

Did You Know?

No matter where you are on Earth, you can watch the International Space Station (ISS) pass overhead. Telescope not required!

Click here to find viewing times near you 

April 21-22, 2020 - The Lyrids

 The Lyrids are somewhat unpredictable. Normally, the Lyrid meteor showers only produce a few visible meteors per hour. But on a good year, the rate might rise to 100+ per hour.

For this year's sky show, the moon will be just a skinny little sliver in the sky making for excellent viewing on a (hopefully!) cloud-free night.

  • Best Viewing Time: The hours just before dawn on April 22nd

  • Average Rate: 10-20 per hour

August 11-12, 2020 - The Perseids

This is one of the best known, most-watched meteor showers of all ... and my personal favorite for a couple reasons.

First, the Persieds reliably produce some awesome meteor sightings year after year.

Second, and maybe most importantly - it's warm here in August. It's a wonderful time to be outdoors gazing up at the stars!

On peak night for the Perseids in 2020, the half-moon will be visible most of the night. But don't let that dissuade you. It's still worth hitting the beach to see the biggest, brightest meteors flash across the night sky!

  • Best Viewing Time: Around 10 p.m. on Aug. 11th into the pre-dawn hours on Aug. 12th

  • Average Rate: 80+ per hour

October 7-8, 2020 - The Draconids

The Draconids (a/k/a "Giacobinids") meteor shower is usually a pretty sparse event with only a few sightings each hour. But on rare occasion, it produces a magnificent display.

The Draconids are mostly seen in the evening hours shortly after dark, so there's no need to get up in the middle of the night to see them. That's the good news  :-). The not-so-good news is that the moon will be half-full the night of October 7-8th, so we'll have less than perfect conditions for our meteor viewing. Darn!  

  • Best Viewing Times: Nightfall into early evening

  • Average Rate: Usually just a few per hour, but on an exceptional year it could be hundreds per hour.

October 21-22, 2020 - The Orionids

With only a few sightings an hour, this is one of the annual sky events that I don't bother setting my alarm clock for.

This year, the moon will pose a bit of a challenge to seeing the Orionids. But if you're going to be awake before dawn anyway, it can't hurt to take a peek outside. Who knows? You might be lucky enough to see a fireball streaking across the sky.

  • Best Viewing Time: The hours just before dawn on October 22nd

  • Average Rate: 10-20 per hour

November 16-17, 2020 - The Leonids

In 2001 the Leonids produced the most breathtaking display I've ever seen!

At one point during the night, almost everyone in our neighborhood was on the beach, braving unseasonably cold conditions, watching hundreds of shooting stars flashing through the sky.

That's a rare occurrence, though. The Leonids usually put on a much more subdued performance.  

Fortunately, in 2020 the moon will be close to "new" giving us a nice, dark sky at the predicted peak time for viewing the Leonid shower. If the sky is clear, I'll be out there looking for those breathtaking meteors! Will you?

  • Best Viewing Times: Midnight to pre-dawn on November 17th

  • Average Rate: 10-20 per hour

December 13-14, 2020 - The Geminids

This is usually one of the best meteor showers of the year with the brightest Geminids sometimes showing colors of blue, yellow or green.

This year we'll have a dark sky during the Geminids' peak viewing time. No matter how cold the air might be, it's well worth heading outdoors to see if you can spot some Geminids!  

  • Best Viewing Time: After 11 p.m. on Dec. 13 to just before dawn on Dec. 14

  • Average Rate: 75-100+ per hour

Where to Watch & What to Bring With You

Where to Watch

The best viewing spots are as far away as you can get from bright city lights.

On Cape Cod, that means almost anywhere is good ... except maybe the more commercial areas of Falmouth, Hyannis, Orleans and Provincetown.

My recommendation? Go to the beach. Especially a beach that has few, if any, street lights nearby.

(Hint: Some towns have recently begun turning off street lights here and there in an effort to conserve energy. It's a good idea to scout out a few possible viewing locations the night before the shower so you'll know where it's darkest.)

Meteor Shower Lodging

Want to see the stars shooting over the ocean? Consider staying somewhere on the waterfront:

What To Bring With You

Here's my "must-have" short list:

  • Warm clothes. It gets chilly at night when you're near the water, even in the middle of summer.

  • A beach blanket, inflatable raft or air mattress. For the most comfortable viewing, you'll want to lie flat on your back -- or as stretched out as possible. (Ignore this advice at your own risk. Many a stiff neck has come from watching the sky while standing or sitting upright, head tilted back. I learned this lesson the hard way.)

  • A flashlight. If you've picked the right place, you'll be totally in the dark until your eyes adjust. Bring a flashlight - with fully charged batteries - so you can see where you're going.

  • Bug repellant. On warm summer nights it gets a little "buggy" on the beach. So if you're going out to watch the Perseid meteor shower in mid-August, don't forget your bug repellant. Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

  • Snacks and drinks. No, not alcoholic beverages. Those aren't allowed on our public beaches ... and it's against the law to drink and drive, anyway. But do bring some snacks and other beverages. And please, dispose of your trash properly. Help us keep our beaches beautiful!

More Stargazing on Cape Cod

Thursday nights in the warm-weather months (weather permitting), Cape Cod Astronomical Society hosts a "Star Party" at Dennis-Yarmouth High School ... home of the Werner-Schmidt Observatory.

Local astronomers set up telescopes and invite visitors to gaze through the lens. These friendly, knowledgeable folks are happy to share their wealth of knowledge about the stars, the planets, and pretty much anything else you'd like to know about the night sky.

The Star Parties are open to the public, free of charge.

FYI: CCAS holds Star Parties in the off-season, too. 

For Star Party details and schedule, visit Cape Cod Astronomical Society's website.

UPDATE: April 4, 2020

Due to restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 outbreak, CCAS's Star Parties have been canceled until further notice.


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