They’re mesmerizing as they flash across the sky and I have yet to meet a child who isn’t captivated by the idea of shooting stars. Sadly, those shooting stars can be so elusive, often missed due to a blink of the eye. That makes meteor showers even more special to our sky watching kids. For them, watching an entire sky filled with shooting stars is like a dream come true! We’ve watched a few meteor showers with our aspiring young astronomers and have developed our top tips for how to watch a meteor shower with your kids.
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Tip #1 – Learn about the meteor showers from NASA. On their site you can learn about what meteor showers are coming up, when they are happening, when they are peaking and most importantly, which areas of the world will have the best opportunity to view the shower. NASA provides all of this information. They also issue special reports such as on the upcoming 2016 Perseid Meteor Shower, which this year is going to experience a cosmic outburst, which means we will see double the number of meteors this year over previous years. The Perseid Meteor shower is going to peak on August 11 and 12, 2016, so this will be a great opportunity for you to watch a meteor shower with your kids.
Tip #2 – Once you have your day and time, try to move as far away from the City as possible. The amount of light pollution created by City lights is immense and makes it almost impossible to see the stars and skies. The farther out you go, the more stars and shooting stars you will see. Maybe use this as the perfect opportunity to plan a family camping trip.
Tip #3 – Head out at least 30 minutes before you intend to start watching the meteor show, this will give your eyes time to adjust. Also limit the use of all light sources so your night vision can become the most effective possible.
Tip #4 – The moon is not your friend! There isn’t much you can do if the moon is full during a meteor shower, but know that the light from the moon can impact your ability to star gaze almost as much as light pollution.
Tip #5 – Dress appropriately. Wear layers and have a blanket handy. Even if it’s just to put on the ground for you to sit or lie on. Remember you will be sitting and waiting for a long time at the coolest part of the night. So plan to stay warm.
Tip #6 – Plan for comfort. Chairs, blankets, whatever you need to rest comfortably while you wait to catch Mother Nature’s spectacular show. Keep in mind too, that your kids are likely going to be either staying up really late, or getting up really early. Keeping them comfortable will help make the whole experience more pleasurable despite the sleep disruptions.
Tip #7 – Divide up the sky and have each member of the family focus on a different part of the sky. When they see a meteor they can shout meteor and point! This makes for a fun “hide & seek” type game for the kids.
Tip #8 – If you have a budding astronomer on your hands, consider installing a star gazing app on your tablet or phone. We use one called Skyview and it’s free. Simply point your device at the sky and it will highlight all the stars and constellations so you know what you are looking at. This keeps my boys busy for ages! But the app will not show the meteors, so put it away once the show starts, and be careful not to mess with your night vision.
Tip #9 – Watch for different colours. Some meteor showers are extremely colourful. So pay close attention and see what colours you notice in the sky. Some meteors will also leave a tail, known as a train, behind them that can last for a while. Watch for those special events.
Tip #10 – Most importantly, have fun. These moments under the stars are where treasured memories are formed, family bonds strengthened and happiness blossoms.
Some science behind meteor showers:
Meteor showers are caused by Earth’s orbit intersecting with clusters of space debris usually caused by comets. Rocks (most are no bigger than a grape) and dust are flung at Earth’s atmosphere at an estimated 212,433 km/hr. They burn up as they enter the atmosphere causing the streaking and fireball effect we see in the skies and call meteors or shooting stars.
Meteors are fast. Traveling at 22 to 44 miles per second. Don’t blink!
The Perseid Meteor showers happen every year and at it’s peak we will see up to 100 meteors per hour. With the outburst this year (2016), we can expect up to 200 meteors per hour. So don’t miss this amazing show from nature when it peaks on August 11 and 12, 2016. It will be the perfect opportunity to bond under the stars and watch a meteor shower as a family.