One of the best meteor showers of the year is upon us, the annual Perseid Meteor shower. The Perseid’s are bits of dust from Comet Swift-Tuttle. As the comet orbits the Sun every 133 years, it releases trillions of particles into space into what we generally would see as it’s “tail”. These particles litter the path of the comet and when Earth passes through that path the particles burn up in our atmosphere as a meteor.
Observing the Shower
To observe this meteor shower you’ll want to go somewhere without city lights.
The constellation of Perseus (where the meteors seem to come from) rises about 10pm local time, thus the first of the meteors will begin to arrive around that time. These early meteors will be few in number, but tend to be long and bright. The peak hours will be between 2am-4am local time, with numbers possibly continuing to rise closer to sunrise.
To watch the shower doesn’t require any equipment, just lay out a lawn chair or blanket and lay back and look at the sky. While the meteors will appear to come from the NE (you can trace the meteors and they’ll all point back to Perseus) it doesn’t matter which direction you look in.
If you aren’t able to watch the shower on the night of the peak 11th / 12th, the Perseids have a gradual rise and thus meteor counts the few nights before and the night after should be good as well.
The Perseids in 2020
The early evening hours will be moon free, however the last quarter moon will rise just after midnight local time. Thus as the shower nears its peak, the moon will begin to interfere. This will wash out the dimmer meteors, but under darker country skies an observer should still see 50-70 meteors. For city dwellers, as is normal, the numbers will probably be about half that.
One of the advantages of this meteor shower however, is the early evening meteors while few in number tend to be longer and brighter. Thus it will still be worth watching. These early meteors should begin around 10pm and go to roughly midnight.
Another advantage of the Perseids is the meteor stream is broad. Though the numbers won’t be high, some Perseids should be visible for a few days before and after (in fact our MeteorCam has already captured a couple!).
See our Perseids Page for a summary and predicted rates for Arkansas.
We also have our Meteor Photography Page for tips on how to photograph the shower.