Perseid Meteor Shower Briefly Storms, Still Has Legs

Jonathan McElvery of Westborough, Mass. captured a bright and colorful Perseid overnight. Notice the trail changes color as different molecules in the air are excited to glow by the passage of the meteoroid, the cookie-crumb sized particle creating the meteor trail. Credit: Jonathan McElvery
Jonathan McElvery of Westborough, Mass. captured a bright and colorful Perseid overnight. Notice that the trail changes color as different molecules in the air are excited to glow by the passage of the meteoroid, the cookie-crumb sized particle creating the meteor trail. Credit: Jonathan McElvery

The Perseid meteor shower must have looked fantastic from 10,000 feet. That’s how high you would have had to go to get past the pervasive fog and overcast skies at my home last night. Tonight looks a little better for weather, so I’ll do what all hopeful amateurs astronomers do. Set the alarm for 2 a.m. and peek out the shade looking for those glimmers of starlight that indicate clear skies.

A bright Perseid Meteor above Chumack Observatory in Dayton, Ohio on 08-11-2016 @ 11:32pm, ISO 250, 24mm F2, 6 second exp.
A bright Perseid meteor streaks above Chumack Observatory in Dayton, Ohio at 11:32 p.m. last night August 11. Details: ISO 250, 24mm F2 lens, 6 second exposure. Credit: John Chumack

From observations reported as of mid-afternoon to the International Meteor Observers 2016 Perseids Quick-Look site, it appears the greatest activity or highest meteor counts happened over Europe and points east in two outbursts: a brief but intense display around 23:15 Universal Time (6:15 p.m. CDT in daylight) August 11 when some observers briefly saw up to 15 Perseids a minute (!) with many bright ones, and a second peak starting around 2:00 UT (9 p.m. CDT) and lasting till 5:00 UT (midnight CDT).


90+ Perseid meteors captured on video August 11-12, 2016 by Ohio amateur John Chumack

While Europeans clearly hit the jackpot — some observers calling it the best since the 2002 Leonid storm — U.S. observers varied in their meteor counts. A few thought the shower was a bust, others reported numbers more typical of an “average year” shower. It appears that Earth passed through a dense filament of comet dust while it was night in Europe but late afternoon in the Americas. C’est la vie météore!

We should be past peak by today, but experience shows that tonight should still be a very good time for Perseid watching. Indeed, the next few nights will reward skywatchers with at least a dozen an hour. I’ll be out watching and hopefully not imagining what’s happening 10,000 feet over my head. Good luck to you too!

Another beautiful Perseid flashes overhead from Westborough, Mass. last night. Credit: Jonathan McElvery
Another beautiful Perseid flashes overhead from Westborough, Mass. last night. Click photo to read more observers’ meteor shower reports. Credit: Jonathan McElvery