The annual Perseid meteor show is ongoing, and this year’s sky watching event is expected to be even more impressive than usual. That’s because the 2016 Perseid meteor shower is expected to throw down twice as many meteors per hour than usual, at least between August 11 and 12. What does this mean exactly? In a nutshell, if you’re watching the skies during peak Perseid activity, you could see as many as 200 meteors every single hour.
As CNN reports, this week’s expected Perseid meteor shower uptick is known, officially, as an “outbreak,” and it’s something that doesn’t happen every day. Or every year. Or even every half-decade. Indeed, the last time the Perseid meteor shower showed off like that is was seven years ago. And it was spectacular.
“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of August 11-12. Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”
So, what are “perfect conditions”? Ideally, low light (read: away from the city), a less-than-full moon, and minimal cloud cover.
If you’re up for checking out this year’s Perseid meteor shower and want the best, most jaw-dropping show possible, the best Perseid viewing is going to be between midnight and first light on August 12. According to experts, sky watchers can reasonably expect to see between 160 and 200 meteors per hour during that time. If conditions are right, that is.
To put the Perseid meteor shower outburst in sky watching perspective, the Eta Aquarids shower in May only boasted 10 or so meteors per hour.
So, where does the Perseid meteor shower come from and why will this year be more breathtaking than average? The meteors visible during the Perseid shower are remnants of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Indeed, the Perseids are all that’s left of the eons-old rocky space projectile, which is now nothing more than an icy, rocky plane of space debris that orbits around our collective star every 133 years or so. When the Earth passes through these remnants (and the tiny cosmic particles they carry with them), the Perseid meteor shower is born.
The Perseids move quick and are extremely bright in an ideally dark night sky. If you’re lucky enough to be in the Northern Hemisphere, this year will be even more spectacular than usual due to the interaction between the Perseid meteors and the planet Jupiter.
Most years, Earth barely grazes the edges of the ancient comet debris. This year, however, Jupiter is interacting (via the giant planet’s gravitational field) with the icy, rocky remains of Comet Swift-Tuttle. This puts Earth smack in the midst of the potential meteor field and means that sky watchers will have the opportunity to see more “shooting stars” than usual during this year’s Perseid meteor shower.
“The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet fly-bys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago. And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.”
If you want to check out this year’s Perseid meteor shower, you’re going to want to block off a bit of time to truly enjoy the show. Don’t expect to rush it, because chances are you’ll be left disappointed. As mentioned, the best time to watch the meteor shower is from midnight to dawn on August 12. Keep in mind, your human eyes aren’t trained to see in the post-midnight darkness, and you can expect it to take around three-quarters of an hour for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness that makes the Perseid meteor shower so epically beautiful.
You can even record your Perseid meteor shower experience for perpetuity. However, you’re going to want to do a bit better than your cell phone’s camera if you want to do it right. The most widely recommended Perseid meteor shower still image recording equipment includes a quality camera and lens. If you want to do long exposure or time lapse, invest in (or borrow) a tripod.
To get the most out of your Perseid meteor shower experience, you need the darkest possible skies. This means leaving city limits. If you can’t manage to get away from the chronic light pollution facing most in the U.S., you can watch the Perseid meteor shower here via livestream.
[Image via Shutterstock]