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Updated: January 24, 2021


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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, 2021 - 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 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.

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

  • Average Rate in Dark Skies: 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 22, 2021 - 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 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.

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

  • Average Rate in Dark Skies: 10-20 per hour

August 11-12, 2021 - 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 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!

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

  • Average Rate in Dark Skies: 80+ per hour

October 8, 2021 - 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. The moon will set before dusk, giving us a good shot at some great viewing conditions.  

  • Best Viewing Times: Nightfall into early evening

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

October 21, 2021 - 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 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.

  • Best Viewing Time: The hours just before dawn on October 21st

  • Average Rate in Dark Skies: 10-20 per hour

November 16-17, 2021 - 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.  

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.

  • Best Viewing Times: Pre-dawn on November 17th

  • Average Rate in Dark Skies: 10-20 per hour

December 13-14, 2021 - 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.

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!  

  • Best Viewing Time: Late night on December 13th to pre-dawn on Dec. 14

  • Average Rate in Dark Skies: 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.

NOTE: Due to restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 outbreak, CCAS's Star Parties were canceled in 2020. Hopefully they'll start up again this year! I'll post an update here when CCAS announces their plans for 2021.

 


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