How & When to Watch This Month’s Amazing Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseid meteor shower is one of the year's most anticipated celestial events, and mid-August is the perfect time to see it at its peak. This year will feature a particularly dazzling display.
The Perseids are the result of Earth passing through the path of the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which began this year on July 24 and will reach its peak on Friday, August 12, when Earth will fly through the thickest patch of Perseids. Every few years, the Perseids are in "outburst," which means the amount of visible meteors can as much as double. This is the first time since 2009 that they will be in outburst.
"This year, instead of seeing about 80 Perseids per hour, the rate could top 150 and even approach 200 meteors per hour," says Bill Cooke, a meteor expert at NASA.
In order to get the best view, avoid moonlight if you can. So be sure to start looking after the moon sets. Also, the full moon rises on August 18, so be sure to check out the skies well before that date. (Remember: August 12 is your best night for watching.)
If you want to sound extra-smart around your meteor-watching friends, here are few fun facts via Space.com:
- When you sit back to watch a meteor shower, you're actually seeing the pieces of comet debris heat up as they enter the atmosphere and burn up in a bright burst of light, streaking a vivid path across the sky as they travel at 37 miles (59 km) per second.
- When they're in space, the pieces of debris are called "meteoroids," but when they reach Earth's atmosphere, they're designated as "meteors."
- If a piece makes it all the way down to Earth without burning up, it graduates to "meteorite."
- Most of the meteors in the Perseids are much too small for that; they're about the size of a grain of sand.
Some further tips on how to maximize your viewing experience include: give yourself at least 30 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the night, and try to find the biggest open space you can, so you can view as much of the sky as possible. At a rate of about 150 meteors per hour, you should be able to spot about two or three per minute.