Complete darkness is best for observing meteors. With light pollution so widespread, it's getting harder to find a truly dark sky. Use the bowl of the Little Dipper to help determine how dark the sky in your area is. The brightest star in the Little Dipper is Kochab, a second-magnitude star. The next brightest is Pherkad, at third magnitude. The next brightest star is fourth-magnitude, and the next brightest is fifth-magnitude. So, if you can see all four stars in the bowl, you're in a pretty dark observing site. Keep in mind that for an increasing number of locations, only Kochab and Pherkad are visible, meaning you're likely to miss many of the fainter streaks.
It really doesn't make much of a difference in which direction you face. You just don't want trees, buildings or sky glow blocking your field of view. Gazing directly overhead (at the zenith) might be best. Your clenched fist held at arm's length measures roughly 10 degrees; some groups recommend looking about 60 degrees up in the direction of the radiant; the radiant for the Comet 209P/LINEAR meteors is in the dim constellation of Camelopardalis, which will be located about one-third up in the sky from the north-northwest horizon.
Use a portable radio to stay updated on the weather. Before changing to what might be a better site, however, note whether the cloudiness is spotty. Sometimes, there are lengthy intervals when few meteors can be seen. Of course, hourly counts mean little if your sky is not entirely clear. (How to Pronounce the Camelopardalids (Video))
If you just want to wait for the occasional shooting star, that's fine. But it's much more fun and interesting to make a useful meteor count that can be reported to the International Meteor Organization (IMO) and the American Meteor Society (AMS) to be compared with other people's results. You'll need a watch or a clock, a notepad, a pen or pencil, a red-covered flashlight and, if you have it, a tape recorder so you can dictate notes without taking your eyes off the sky.
Meteors have a way of coming in bunches that defy counting, magnitude estimating and plotting all at the same time. Often, people notice what some call the "clumping effect" - meteors arrive in groups of two or three, and will fall within a matter of seconds, followed by a lull period of several minutes or more before the sky again bears fruit. Some observers say this is an illusion; if you are observing alone, just make hourly counts and estimate magnitudes. It's helpful to use a hand counter to click off the number of meteors you see.
Meteor observing can also be a fun social affair. But if you observe in a group, do not combine results! Group counts are worthless. If you're in a group, assign each observer a limited program. Every person should observe as if alone, preferably watching a different section of the sky. Try not to be influenced by somebody who might yell out something like, "Whoa, look at that!"
The simplest method is to just count the meteors you see. If a few obstructions intrude, they should block no more than 20 percent of your view, and you must note the percentage of the view they're covering. The same applies to clouds.
If you take any breaks, note the times each begins and ends. Your vigil should total at least an hour, not counting breaks, and preferably longer. Ever hour, separate your observing records with a time annotation.
For more details, check out the IMO website at http://www.imo.net/ and the American Meteor Society website at http://www.amsmeteors.org/.
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