Don’t wait – go out now to see the Perseid meteor shower

The annual Perseid meteor shower radiates from a point in the constellation Perseus just below the W of Cassiopeia. Rates are usually around 100-120 meteors per hour from a dark, moonless sky at peak. This map shows the sky facing east around midnight Aug. 12-13. Stellarium

The beloved Perseid meteor shower peaks next Tuesday night August 12-13, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go out right now for a look. Why? Two good reasons.

First, Earth has already entered the meteor stream formed by dust and grit left in the wake of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. I can attest to this. While hardly trying, I spotted a half dozen Perseids after moonset this morning. Second, the nearly full moon will compromise the shower when it’s at its best.

Composite of bright Perseid meteors recorded by NASA all-sky cameras in 2011. Each is a grain rock shed from the tail of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. Every year in mid-August, Earth passes through the comet’s debris trail as it orbits around the sun. Any particles we smack into burn up as meteors some 60-70 miles overhead. Credit: NASA

Between now and Friday morning, the moon will set before the start of dawn, leaving skywatchers a dark, moonless window of meteor watching. You might be surprised and see more than you expected. I did.

Come August 12, when the number of meteors peak, a nearly full moon will be up all night compromising the fainter meteors. That doesn’t mean you should abandon viewing that night. Just be aware that you’ll probably see closer to 30 per hour instead of the higher number.

The moon, two days past full, will brighten the sky during the Perseid peak. This view shows the sky facing east around midnight Aug. 12-13. Stellarium

If you’re OK with losing a little sleep sometime in the next few nights, set the alarm for 2-3 a.m., face east or south and relax for an hour under the sky as the Perseids fly by.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

3 thoughts on “Don’t wait – go out now to see the Perseid meteor shower

  1. Good idea Bob… I stepped outside last night to watch the Space Station glide silently overhead & as ISS passed thru the Big Dipper a meteor flashed across the sky! I will be sleepless over the next week. :-)

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