The Perseids Meteor Shower 2012 can work for you as a cheap date night, especially since it peaks in Plymouth on Saturday night and into Sunday morning—if you can find a place to actually see it.
Plymouth is close enough to the Twin Cities' urban centers for light-pollution to possibly impede star- or meteor-gazing. (See a light pollution map of Minnesota at the Minnesota Astronomical Society's web page.)
However, if you want to try to catch a glimpse at the Perseids Meteor Shower, here are some viewing options for Aug. 10-12:
- Parker's Lake Park might be a dark enough spot in Plymouth to try viewing the meteor shower, but there are homes around the lake so it might not be pitch black out enough.
- You could try Medicine Lake in French Park, but the park closes at 10 p.m.
- Elm Creek Park Reserve might be the darkest spot in Maple Grove to try to see the Perseids Meteor Shower, but note that the park does close at 10 p.m.
- The University of Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics hosts "Universe in the Park" events this Friday and Saturday at state parks north and south of the metro area. The closest is at Lake Maria State Park in Monticello, which has an event starting at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10.
- If you're willing to get behind the wheel to see a meteor, the Onan Observatory at Baylor Regional Park in Norwood Young America, MN (about an hour from Maple Grove), will host a viewing party.
- And the Minnesota Astronomical Society lists several other facilities in the region suitable for seeing the night sky.
The Anoka Hennepin School District's Jackson Middle School observatory in Champlin (closed for the summer) says this about Saturday, Aug. 11:
The Perseid meteor shower should be at its best tonight. The Moon doesn’t rise until the wee hours of the morning, so it won’t spread much light to overpower the show. The Moon will line up between the dazzling planets Venus and Jupiter.
More about Meteors
If the clouds cooperate (by staying away), you can see the annual meteor shower this weekend. Space.com tells us these objects are tiny bits of rock and debris from an old comet, which is named Swift-Tuttle after the astronomers who discovered it in 1862.
The shower splashes through the sky every year in early August when Earth passes through the comet Swift-Tuttle's orbit and sweeps up some of this debris. We see shooting stars—rapid streaks of light—as the tiny rocks encounter the thin upper atmosphere of the Earth and the air is heated to incandescence.
For the geeks among us, here's some trivia: The Perseids get their name from Perseus, the constellation from which they seem to emanate, but they can appear anywhere in the sky. Their only connection with Perseus is that, if you trace their path backward across the sky, eventually you get to Perseus.
You can see the shower anywhere in the sky, but look toward the southeastern sky to see the meteors at their brightest and longest.
This bit of advice from Space.com
If you don't see any meteors at first, be patient. This is a meteor shower, not a meteor storm. There will be a lot more meteors than you would see on a normal night, but they will still only come at random intervals, perhaps 20 or 30 in an hour.
When you do see a meteor, it will likely be very fast and at the edge of your field of vision. You may even doubt that what you saw was real. But, when you do see something, watch that area more closely, as two or three meteors often come in groups down the same track.