The best meteor shower of the year is upon us, the annual Perseid Meteor shower. The Perseid’s meteors are bits of dust and material 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 if the 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 times, 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 high as well.
The Perseids in 2019
Unfortunately this is going to be a challenging year to watch the meteor shower. The meteor shower is predicted to peak on the evening / morning of Aug. 12/13 when the moon will be just two days before reaching full. This means a bright, nearly full moon will be in the sky the majority of the night, not setting until right before dawn. The bright glow will wash out all but the brightest of meteors.
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 the weekend of Aug. 3rd, when the moon will be at new and out of the sky. Another minor shower, the Delta Aquariids, are also active during that time.
Though not a great year for the Perseids, head outdoors on the evening of Aug. 12th and you still might be able to catch some of the brighter meteors under a moonlit sky.