One of the best meteor showers of the year peaks next week. You can head out tonight to see the Perseid meteor shower, but the best time will be in the overnight hours on August 11-12 and 12-13. Unfortunately, a bright full Moon will be in the way knocking meteor rates down to 15-20 per hour from the usual 60+.
Still, any meteors you do see should be good ones. The full moon will drown out the fainter ones, leaving only the bright ones. Perseids are also known for fireballs, so it’s still worth heading out despite the bright moon. And hey, you could always take out a telescope and check out the moon before you settle in for a fireball hunt.
How to watch Perseids? This is the easy part. Just lay on your back and lookup. Perseids will shoot across the sky. But if you trace them backward, you’ll see they appear to originate from the Perseus constellation (their namesake). I like to lay on my back with my feet pointing towards the Perseus constellation.
You might also see a few meteors that aren’t part of the Perseids. A couple of minor meteor showers are also active right now according to NASA, including the Alpha Capricornids, the Southern Delta Aquariids, and the Kappa Cygnids. An image from NASA during a previous Perseid meteor shower shows how most appear to originate from the same point, but a few others cross the sky in a different direction.
Despite the bright moon, you’ll still want to find a place from city lights for the best chance at seeing the 15-20 per hour. DarkSiteFinder is a great website to use to help find a good spot. It’ll be hard to escape all light pollution in the eastern half of the U.S., but try to find a place that’s not colored in white/red.
Where do the Perseids come from? The tiny pieces of rock, dirt, and ice are part of a debris trail left behind by a rather large comet called Swift-Tuttle. Its nucleus measures 16 miles across, that’s more than twice the size of the one scientists believe killed off the dinosaurs according to NASA. Swift-Tuttle takes 133 years to circle the Sun once. But we won’t have to worry about Swift-Tuttle hitting Earth.
The comet reached its closest point to the Sun (perihelion) back in 1992 and will do so again in 2125.
If the weather isn’t your friend, NASA will be hosting a live broadcast using a camera from Huntsville, AL on the peak nights. While the bright moon is a bummer, remember, it only takes one fireball to make your night. Head on out after 9 p.m. local time and see if you can spot one.
Here are a few more meteor showers to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the year:
Orionids – October
Leonids – mid-November
Geminids – mid-December
Featured image credit: NASA/Jens Hackmann