Summer is my favorite season for a lot of reasons but being a major space nerd, the warm nights and clear skies are what make the season my favorite. The highlight of summer’s stargazing season is without a doubt the Perseid meteor shower. On a good night, you can see up to 60-70 meteors per hour. Unfortunately, we won’t see that many this year (we’ll explain why later) but NASA predicts we will still see 15-20 meteors an hour so it’s definitely worth going outside to check out nature’s fiesta of flying fireballs.
What is the Perseid meteor shower?
Like all meteor showers, the Perseid shower is a collection of space rocks burning up as they enter Earth’s atmosphere. Meteors are more commonly referred to as shooting stars, but the “stars” in this case are just lumps of burning space debris. We can see shooting stars all year long, but when a lot of meteors hurl themselves toward the earth at once, we call it a meteor shower. The meteors from the Perseid meteor shower come from a comet called Swift-Tuttle. As the comet passes by the earth, it ejects particles and they burn up as they enter the earth’s atmosphere which gives the appearance of a shooting or falling star.
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Why are they called Perseid meteors?
Well, because they appear to be coming from the constellation Perseus. A star map can help you locate the constellation so you’ll know where to look. If you don’t have a star map and live in the northern hemisphere, just look to the northeastern sky and you’ll likely be able to spot the meteors pretty easily.
When and how can I view the Perseid meteor shower?
Because of comet Swift-Tuttle’s orbit, the date and time of the shower varies slightly year-to-year. This year, the shower peaks at night (after midnight) between Monday, August 12 and Tuesday, August 13. As we mentioned earlier, we’ll only see around 15-20 meteors per hour because the meteor shower happens to occur at the same time as the full moon. The light from the full moon will obscure our view of a lot of the fainter meteors so we’ll only be seeing the biggest and brightest meteors.
There are a couple of things you can do to help make the most out of your viewing experience. First, head outside about 30 mins before the peak because your eyes need time to adjust. Allowing your eyes to adjust to the dark will help you see more of the fainter meteors. Second, use red flashlights or headlamps instead of traditional lights. Red light doesn’t dilate your eyes as much as brighter, white light so you’ll preserve your night vision and ensure you see as many meteors as possible.
If you can’t get outside or live in a really light-polluted city that will make viewing difficult, you can watch the spectacle online via NASA’s Meteor Watch live feed.
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