We are in the run up to the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, but get in early to catch these summer shooting stars in 2011. The Earth entered the stream of comet dust that produces this annual display in the second half of July.
Numbers will steadily build until we hit the densest regions around August 12, with maximum in the early hours of the 13th. However, that time of maximum coincides in 2011 with a Full Moon which will brighten the sky so much that it will drown out all but the most brilliant Perseids.
Best views may therefore be had over the coming week or so while the Moon goes from near-New to First Quarter phase. It is still worth keeping an eye out when the Moon is near full as the Perseids do include plenty of bright meteors in their repertoire.
July tends to kick off meteor season, with more shower activity occurring in the second half of the year than the first. While watching got the early Perseids, you might spot meteors from two other radiants too.
The δ Aquarids have a southerly radiant, so are best seen in the southern hemisphere, but meteors are visible in northern skies too. Activity runs from around July 12 to August 23 with rates reaching 15 meteors an hour at best near the end of July. Since New Moon is on July 30, this is a good year to look for them.
Also active throughout July until mid August is another southern shower, the α Capricornids. Rates are low with maybe only five visible an hour at best, but the shower can produce some lovely bright fireballs.
Meteor observing is a fun project for a beginner to do alone or with friends because no equipment is necessary other than a garden chair! However, results can be useful to scientists if proper notes are taken and sent to major astronomical societies to be coordinated with observations by others. For advice on how to observe, check out Skymania’s own meteor-watching guide.
Generally, the higher a shower’s radiant radiant is in the sky, the more meteors will be seen. Also, as we get closer to dawn, the part of the Earth where the observer is situated is likely to be turning into the direction from which the meteors come.