Don’t Miss “Prime Time” for the Perseid Meteor Shower

The best-known meteor shower of the year should be a good time this year on the peak night of August 11, with no bright Moon to interfere.

August brings the best-known meteor shower of the year, the Perseids. This annual meteor shower happens each year as Earth crosses the debris trail of comet Swift-Tuttle. Most of these meteors are grains of dust up to the size of a pea, and they create fabulous “shooting stars” as they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

We experience the Perseid meteor shower each year as Earth passes through the stream of debris left behind in the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. Every August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet’s orbital debris. This debris field — mostly created hundreds of years ago — consists of bits of ice and dust shed from the comet which burn up in Earth’s atmosphere to create one of the premier meteor showers of the year.

Meteor showers appear to radiate from a point called the radiant, though they can streak across the sky anywhere above you. For the Perseids, this point is in the constellation Perseus. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Although Perseids can be seen from mid-July through late August, the most likely time to see any is a couple of days on either side of the peak. This year the peak falls on the night of August 11th, and into the pre-dawn hours of August 12th. (Think of that as “prime time” for the Perseids.) Under really dark skies, you could see almost one per minute near the time of maximum activity.

This year’s peak night for the Perseids benefits from a Moon that sets early in the evening, so it won’t interfere with the fainter meteors. But before it sets that evening, be sure to check out that gorgeous crescent Moon in the west after sunset with the brilliant planet Venus.

On the night the Perseids peak, check out a beautiful scene with the crescent Moon near Venus in the west following sunset. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

To enjoy the Perseid meteor shower, just find a safe, dark location away from bright city lights. Lie down or recline with your feet facing roughly toward the north and look up. The meteors appear to radiate from around the constellation Perseus, but they can streak across the sky anywhere above you.

NASA also has a way for you to catch some Perseids online. NASA’s Meteor Watch team plans a live stream overnight on August 11. Visit this link for more details. 

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