The stars (or the moon if you want to be literal) have aligned this year for the annual Perseid meteor shower. The new moon falls this weekend on August 11, just as the meteor shower reaches its peak, which means that the skies will be dark and ideal for viewing the full splendor of the Perseids. Here’s your primer to getting the best view of one of nature‘s most spectacular shows.
What is the Perseid meteor shower?
Every year, the Earth moves through the cloud of debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle (named after its discoverers Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle in 1862) between mid-July and the end of August. The particles, which are only about the size of a grain of sand, rocket toward Earth at 132,000 miles per hour, burning up in the atmosphere and creating streaks and fireballs in the sky. Because they appear to originate from the constellation Persus, they’re known as Perseids.
When is the best time to see them?
Perseids usually peak between August 9 and 14, when there are more than 60 meteors visible per hour. This year, they’ll peak on the night of Saturday, August 11 and Sunday, August 12, with scientists speculating that Sunday will be the better show. Their point of origin means they’re best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, and the highest amount of activity happens pre-dawn—between midnight and sunrise. Earlier in the night, before 11 p.m., they will appear as streaks with longer tails as they move through the atmosphere at a wider angle, but as it gets closer to dawn, the frequency will increase and they will appear as fireballs as they approach the Earth more perpendicularly.
How do you get the best view?
You don’t need any equipment or to be in a special location to see the Perseids—all you need are your eyes and a view of the sky directly above. Even those in the Southern Hemisphere will be able to see them, although they won’t see as many. Your best bet is to get to higher ground or somewhere remote where you have an unobstructed view of the sky, away from light pollution. This should be easy for those in rural areas, but for city dwellers, it’s more of a challenge. You may have to drive out of the city to get the best view, but granted you don’t live somewhere with a lot of smog or fog, you should be able to catch a glimpse of some of the action even in a city.
Learn more about the Perseid meteor shower in this video from SciNews.