Perseid meteor shower: When and how to watch the peak

This year’s Perseid meteor shower will peak in the early hours of Friday and Saturday, delivering what NASA astronomers say is the best of about 30 meteors a year.

The Perseid meteor shower is characterized by numerous fireballs — unusually bright meteors that leave specks of light in the night sky as they burn up in the atmosphere. Under ideal viewing conditions, skywatchers can see between 50 and 100 bright and colorful meteors per hour at the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.

The best time to watch the Perseid meteor shower is two to three before sunrise, said Bill Cooke, chief astronomer at NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Hour. But he added that the light from this year’s full moon will wash away the dimmer streaks of meteors.

“In the absence of a full moon, the moon would reduce the meteor rate to a third or a quarter of a year,” Dr Cook said. But even with moonlight, he added, the Perseid shower promises to be “better than any meteor shower we’ve had so far this year.”

Moonlight isn’t the only thing that can come between a sky watcher and a dazzling sky show. Clouds can cause problems, as can light pollution.

“Light pollution is like moonlight,” Dr Cook said of artificial light from street lights, buildings and other sources in populated areas.

“A century ago, we had more dark skies,” he said, adding that today’s skywatchers see fewer meteors than their ancestors.

The Perseid meteor shower can be observed globally every summer, but is best viewed from the northern hemisphere. The meteor shower is named after the constellation Perseus, which is located in the area of ​​the sky where meteors appear to be emitted.

A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid meteor shower in Spruce Knob, West Virginia, in 2021.


photo:

Bill Ingalls/Associated Press

Although they are sometimes called meteors, meteors are actually fast-moving chunks of ice, dust, and rocks that hit Earth’s atmosphere as our planet orbits the sun, taking us through the debris trail of a comet or asteroid . In the case of Perseus, Earth is passing through the debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle, a large comet discovered in 1862.

Fragments of the comet — ranging in size from a grain of sand to a pea — slammed into the atmosphere at NASA’s speed of 37 miles per second, or about 133,000 miles per hour. Heat from intense friction between the debris and molecules in the atmosphere caused the drill to burn.

The peak of the Perseid meteor shower occurs when Earth passes through the densest part of the Swift-Tuttle debris trail.

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To optimize your view of the constellation Perseus, find a dark spot away from the city lights so that you can get an unobstructed view of the sky in the predawn hours. But meteors should be visible any time between midnight and dawn, according to Ashley King, a researcher at London’s Natural History Museum and an expert on meteors.

There is no need for binoculars or telescopes, as these instruments limit how much of the night sky you can see at one time. If the moon is still visible, look in the other direction – and make sure to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness.

“It might take you 10 to 15 minutes to see your first one,” Dr. King said.

Write to Aylin Woodward at aylin.woodward@wsj.com

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