On and around August 12th, the Perseid Meteor showers hit the night skies. At the same time, a new moon promises spectacular viewing.
Named after the constellation, Perseus, since that’s where the meteors appear to originate from, the shower actually lasts for a few weeks, roughly from July 20th to August 20th, and, peak meteor activity will take place Sunday night, August 12th through about 4 am Monday morning, August 13th.
The Perseids are considered the most impressive Meteor Shower of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. Offering a consistently high rate of meteors every year, they also occur during a time when the temperatures are typically warm enough for a night under the stars!
Each July and August, the Earth encounters debris left behind from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. This comet has an orbit of 133 years and last entered the inner solar system in 1992. Even though the comet now lies in the outer portions of the solar system, far away from Earth, we still encounter debris that has been left behind during the many trips this comet has made through the solar system.
To view the Perseids at their best, you need to know the best time for viewing. During the evening hours, the radiant, the area of the sky where Perseid meteors shoot from, is located low in the northern sky. This is the worst time to try and view the shower for sheer numbers, as most of the activity occurs beyond the line of sight. The few that do come into view this time of night are indeed special, because they just skim the upper regions of the atmosphere and last much longer than Perseids seen during the morning hours. Since they last longer, they also will travel a much longer distance across the sky. Most of these will be seen low in the east or west, traveling north to south. Occasionally one will pass overhead and will be truly unforgettable as you see it shoot across the sky for several seconds. While these meteors are few, they are certainly worth the effort to try and catch.
During the peak, in early morning hours, between 2-4 am, viewers can expect to see about 60 or 70 meteors per hour. So grab a sleeping bag, make a wish and enjoy the spectacular show Sunday night.
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