The month of August comes bearing a special celestial gift for passionate stargazers. Starting next weekend, the skies will come alive with one of the most beloved and hotly awaited meteor showers of the entire year, as the Perseids begin their annual fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere, announced NASA.
What Are The Perseids?
As dedicated sky watchers know all too well, the Perseids are considered to be the best meteor shower of the year. These tiny specks of space rock, which ignite the skies and our imagination each year, are cosmic debris leftover from Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, a massive icy body with a 16-mile-wide nucleus, which zips past Earth once every 134 years.
According to Space, comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest object known that regularly passes near Earth’s orbit. The last time that the giant comet swung by our planet was 27 years ago, in 1992. This means that the comet is due for another close visit in 2126.
While the imposing comet is the source of the Perseids, the shiny meteors get their name from the constellation of Perseus (“The Hero”), the swath of sky from where they appear to radiate, also known as their radiant.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year from July 17 until August 24, which is the exact interval of time when planet Earth passes through the trail of dust and debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle in its journey around the sun. As the planet slides into the comet’s path each year, broken pieces of Swift-Tuttle still lingering in space are snagged by our atmosphere and burn up in the dazzling display that is the Perseid meteor shower.
The Perseid Meteor Shower
Hailed as the most spectacular light show of the entire year, the Perseid meteor shower reserves its most memorable performances for a couple of select nights when the meteors peak. On a typical year, the Perseids come raining from the sky at rates of 60 and up to 70 meteors per hour during their peak, treating stargazers to a mesmerizing spectacle.
In some years, the shooting stars come streaking across the sky in even bigger numbers, of 150 to 200 meteors per hour. These are known as outburst years, the latest one being 2016.
Unfortunately, the 2019 Perseids won’t be boasting the same breathtaking performance, due to less-than-perfect viewing conditions.
“This year’s shower, however, has unfortunate circumstance of having a full moon right at the shower peak, reducing the meteor rates from over 60 per hour down to 15-20 per hour,” explains NASA.
“But the Perseids are rich in bright meteors and fireballs, so it will still be worth going out in the early morning to catch some of nature’s fireworks.”
Earth Sky offers the same predictions, pointing out that there’s still a good chance for sky watchers to enjoy the light show this year.
“In 2019, the peak night of this shower will be marred by the brilliant waxing gibbous moon, although the brighter Perseids will likely overcome the moonlit glare,” notes the media outlet.
When To Catch The 2019 Perseids
The most opportune time to spot the Perseids lighting up the sky as shooting stars is during their peak interval. This falls each year between August 11 and August 13; specifically the three days in which Earth travels through the densest, dustiest area of Comet Swift-Tuttle’s orbit.
Your best bet to catch the meteors streaking across the sky would be in the early hours of the morning, between about 2 a.m. local time and dawn. On the night of August 11, the moon is expected to set at around 3 a.m., warranting about an hour of good viewing conditions.
“However, the rates will be lower than on the peak, so don’t expect more than 20 per hour, even without the moon,” notes NASA, adding that the second night of the peak, August 12, will offer even less time to spot the Perseids; “a scant few minutes of dark sky between moonset and twilight.”
In case you’re not exactly a night owl, you still have a chance to catch a glimpse of the meteors in the evening. Simply head out after dark, at around 9 p.m. local time, and find a good, dark location to take in the celestial show.
“Just know that you won’t see nearly as many as you would had you gone out during the early morning hours,” NASA points out.
For tips on how to watch the meteor shower, head over to the step-by-step list of what to do to maximize your chances of spotting the faint meteors in the sky, as detailed by The Inquisitr. And, if you’re planning to catch the Perseids on camera, check out these 10 pro tips from NASA on how to photograph a meteor shower, summarized by The Inquisitr.
Alternatively, you can watch the meteor shower from the comfort of your own home, as NASA will be hosting a live broadcast for your convenience on both peak nights. Tune in at the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook starting at around 8 p.m. ET and enjoy the show.
Happy viewing, everyone!