Updated: January 24, 2021
When meteor showers light up the night sky over Cape Cod, it's an amazing sight to see!
There's no better time for sky-gazing than those few nights a year when meteors ("shooting stars") are showering.
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 a bright moon 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.
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 set about an hour before dawn. If you can roust yourself from bed at that hour, head out for excellent viewing in a (hopefully!) cloud-free sky.
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 2021, moon set will be early evening, leaving dark skies for the rest of the night. Fingers crossed for no clouds or rain so we can watch the biggest, brightest meteors flash across the night sky!
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. The moon will set before dusk, giving us a good shot at some great viewing conditions.
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 full moon will pose a major 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.
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.
Unfortunately, in 2021 the moon will be a hindrance to viewing most of the night, finally setting just before sunrise. If you're an early riser, it's worth taking a pre-dawn peek for some breathtaking meteors.
This is usually one of the best meteor showers of the year with the brightest Geminids sometimes showing colors of blue, yellow or green.
For most of the night, viewing will be a challenge thanks to a bright moon that won't set until a few hours before dawn. But if you happen to be outdoors on the night of December 13-14 (and especially in the pre-dawn hours), it's definitely worth looking to the sky to see if you can spot some Geminids!
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.)
Here's my "must-have" short list:
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.