Each summer, millions of people around the world look to the night sky to watch thousands of “shooting stars” streak across the sky from the annual Perseid meteor shower. Aficionados of shooting stars are in for a treat this year because scientists predict that the 2016 show will be particularly spectacular.
Here are a few things you need to know about the shower:
1. Best Places to View the Meteor Shower in the United States
According to weather.com meteorologist Tom Moore, areas west of the Rockies and in the Northern Plains will have the best views of the shower on Thursday night. The South will not be as lucky as the current forecast calls for overcast skies. The East Coast will have intermittent cloud cover, so people in this area should be able to catch glimpses of the meteor shower.
On Friday and Saturday, people in the West, the Northern Plains and the mid-Atlantic will have the best opportunity to view the shower, and on Saturday, those in the I-95 corridor in the Northeast, the West and the Northern Plains will have the best shot.
2. Best Time to View the Meteor Shower
While the peak of the Perseid meteor shower will occur tonight, Friday and Saturday, it will continue until Aug. 24. One thing to note: The full moon is on Aug. 18, so you will likely get a better glimpse of the meteors earlier in the month.
3. Through the Debris of a Comet
The Perseids occur each August as Earth passes through the tail of dust and debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle. As those particles or meteoroids smash into the Earth’s atmosphere at a rate of about 133,200 mph (60 kilometers per second) they burn up, producing bright streaks across the sky that we see as meteors or shooting stars.
Most are the size of sand grains, and a few are as big as peas or marbles. Few ever hit the ground, but if one does, it’s called a meteorite.
4. This Year Will Be Spectacular
During a typical year, viewers in a dark location can expect to see a meteor every minute to every 30 seconds during the peak, Peter Brown, a professor with the Meteor Physics Group at Western University in London, Ontario, told CBC.
“A lot of those meteors will be pretty bright,” he said, adding that this year, “the rates could be up to … a couple every minute, maybe even three a minute” if you’re camping or at the cottage, away from city lights. Dark skies are key to seeing lots of meteors.”
This year’s outburst is caused by the influence of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s orbits on the Swift-Tuttle debris, Brown said. The last such outburst occurred in 2009 when the Perseids produced about double the number of meteors
5. Named For a Constellation
Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which they appear to originate, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In the case of the Perseids, it’s the constellation Perseus, named after the hero from mythology who killed Medusa.
6. Swift-Tuttle Comet
Discovered in 1862 by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, comet Swift-Tuttle has been offering the world spectacular meteor showers for 2,000 years, according to planets.org.uk.
Interestingly, the comet is about 16 miles across, which is roughly the same size as the meteor that caused the demise of the dinosaurs.
7. A Near Miss With Earth
In the 1990s, it was feared that the comet might come into contact with Earth, wiping out life on this planet much like the dinosaurs were wiped out millions of years ago. Thankfully, that theory was debunked, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in the future.
According to Space.com, it’s the largest object “known to make repeated passes near Earth,” and was last here in 1992. The next time it will come close to Earth is in 2126.
Astronomer Brian Marsden discovered during the 1990s that the comet and Earth might experience a cosmic near miss of roughly a million miles in 3044.
Tears of Saint Lawrence is another name for the Perseids meteor shower, which is the remains of Comet Swift Tuttle. pic.twitter.com/Qlhm19fCaZ
— The Cosmic Wonderer (@thecosmicroad) June 22, 2016
8. Perseids in ‘Outburst’
According to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke, the Perseids are perhaps the most popular meteor shower of the year. They will be in “outburst” in 2016, which means they’ll appear at double the usual rates.
“This year, instead of seeing about 80 Perseids per hour, the rate could top 150 and even approach 200 meteors per hour,” Cooke told Space.com. It’s the first such outburst since 2009.
(MORE: Mount Sourabaya: The Volcanic Eruption Nobody But NASA Saw)
9. Get Away From Artificial Light
To get the most out of the experience, it’s best to find a place far away from the artificial light of cities. The shower can be seen by the naked eye, but the key to seeing the most meteors is “to take in as much sky as possible,” Cooke said.
Find a dark area, preferably in the suburbs or countryside, and be patient. It can take up to 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, he said, and the longer you wait outside, the more meteors you’re likely to see.
10. Best Pre-Dawn
The meteors will seem to originate from the constellation Perseus, which appears on the horizon at different times depending on where you live, but somewhere around 10 p.m. local time. The best time to get the most meteors is after midnight with a peak just before dawn, says Space.com. You will be able to see streaks all over the sky, but they will always seem to appear to be streaking away from Perseus.
5 thoughts on “Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Over the Next Few Nights: 10 Things to Know to Catch the Best View”
Figures this happens right when far west Texas is finally getting the rain we need. Naturally, it’ll likely be overcast tonight. Fingers crossed I get to see this.
I’m right there with you. We’re getting it in Phoenix too. Real cloudy today.
If memory serves, it was cloudy and overcast here in the valley last year for this as well.
HOMEMADE GOUDA AND CRACKERS, HARD APPLE CIDER AND JILLY BEAN……….. THIS IS GONNA BE FUN………………
Yay! Forecast says sunny & clear through next Wed.
Not nearly as thrilled about the heat, though.
Hey Angel! 😀