“It’s all about just looking up at the sky,” says Hakeem Oluseyi, an astrophysicist and the author of “A Quantum Life: My Unlikely Journey From the Streets to the Stars.” “The question is, are you noticing it?” You don’t need fancy equipment; the naked eye is best. “Typically, any technical equipment that you use is going to restrict your field of view,” Oluseyi says. Get away from city light — “the darker, the better,” he says — and find a place with as much visible sky as possible, like a spot in the mountains or desert. Close your eyes for a few minutes, to speed up their adaptation to the dark. “If you have to have lights,” Oluseyi says, “they should be red lights.”
What we call shooting stars are chunks from comets and asteroids that can be seen year-round. But many more shooting stars are visible when the earth passes through debris fields at the same time every year. “We call those meteor showers,” Oluseyi says. The Perseids and Leonids are typically the most reliable, in August and November. They’re as predictable as the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone, he says. During other times of year, check the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center for updates. “It’s just like taking a fishing trip: You check the weather first because you’d want to know what’s happening in the sky before you go,” Oluseyi says. Check the earth weather in advance too.
Even in clear skies, it can take awhile, sometimes a few hours, before you see what you want, so go with friends to make the long outings more engaging. You don’t have to limit yourself to waiting for only shooting stars. Indeed, sometimes it helps to scan for other things. “You can look for satellites and constellations and double stars,” Oluseyi says. “You can try to find Andromeda. Every time I go somewhere new, all over the earth, I gotta see what the night sky looks like from where I am.” Look up and let the shooting stars surprise you: “Suddenly you see something out of the corner of your eye and you turn your head and this bright, like, ‘Woo’ thing happens.”