As passionate star gazers already know by now, August comes bearing a special celestial gift — the most spectacular light show of the entire year.
The Perseid meteor shower is coming up later this month and should treat us to a wonderful sighting of 60 and up to 70 meteors per hour, says Jane Houston Jones of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
While the Perseids offer a mesmerizing spectacle year after year — and can even be seen streaking across the sky at astounding rates of 150 to 200 meteors per hour in outburst years, as it happened in 2016 — you won’t want to miss this year’s show, and for a good reason: the extremely clear viewing conditions.
When To Spot The Perseids
According to Houston Jones, the 2018 Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12-13, right after the new moon on August 11. This means the night sky will be “nice and dark,” offering the best setting for the dance of the Perseids.
This year, the peak of the year’s most popular light show starts from 4 p.m. EDT on August 12 and lasts until 4 a.m. on August 13.
“Your best window of observation is from a few hours after twilight until dawn, on the days surrounding the peak,” says Houston Jones.
However, there’s a good chance you can catch shooting stars on August 11 as well, says NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke.
“The moon is very favorable for the Perseids this year, and that’ll make the Perseids probably the best shower of 2018 for people who want to go out and view it.”
The Perseids get their name from the Perseus constellation, the swath of the sky from where they appear to radiate. But you don’t necessarily need to locate their radiant in the sky in order to catch a glimpse of the falling meteors, JPL points out.
Although the Perseus constellation is easy to spot this time of year since it’s “visible in the northern sky soon after sunset,” you can feast your eyes on the Perseids by looking “anywhere you want to” in the night sky — “even directly overhead,” notes Houston Jones.
Origin Of The Perseid Meteor Shower
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the Perseids are leftover debris from Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which regularly passes near Earth’s orbit.
The last time Swift-Tuttle buzzed our planet was in 1992, notes Space.com, adding that the 16-mile-wide (26 kilometers) comet is due for another close visit in 2126.
Meanwhile, Earth makes a yearly journey through the trail of dust and debris left behind by Swift-Tuttle more than two decades ago. As our planet slides in the comet’s path each year from July 17 until August 24, broken pieces of Swift-Tuttle still lingering in space enter our atmosphere, burning up in the dazzling display that is the Perseid meteor shower.
“Unlike most meteor showers, which have a short peak of high meteor rates, the Perseids have a very broad peak, as Earth takes more than three weeks to plow through the wide trail of cometary dust from comet Swift-Tuttle,” says Houston Jones.
This means you should be able to see some of the Perseids up until August 24, although the shooting stars are bound to decrease their falling rate after August 13.