Perseid Meteor Shower Underway, Peaks Next Week

The Perseid Meteor Shower is under way, but the show is just beginning. The annual event, hailed as the best meteor shower of the year, is set to peak next weekend.

While the Perseids have had up to 100 meteors per hour in past years, this year’s show is expected to yield 70 per hour. But it won’t disappoint. The moon will be at its smallest during the peak days of August 11-12, making for a spectacular show.

The meteor shower is named from the constellation Perseus, because the fireballs appear to emanate from it. In reality, the Detroit Free Press explains they have a much different origin.

The dust grains that smash into the Earth’s atmosphere every year come from Comet Swift-Tuttle. It circles our sun every 133 years, leaving small dust particles in its wake.

While April’s Lyrids and November’s Leonids are also brought by comets, the Perseids are arguably the best. Not only are there more meteors per hour, but August’s meteor shower also boasts the most fireballs of any other shower per year.

The Los Angeles Times notes that Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, recently crowned the Perseids the fireball champion of meteor showers. Cooke and his team tracked fireball activity since 2008 and discovered that Perseid meteors shine brighter than any other annual shower, though the Geminids come in close second.

The magnitude of the show is likely because Swift-Tuttle has a larger than average nucleus, which is about 16 miles across. While the shower is expected to peak on August 11-12, the Perseids can actually be seen from July 17 until August 24, though the days before the peak will be better than those after.

As with any skywatching at night, it is best to find a spot away from city lights. The rate will also be greatest in the pre-dawn hours. The Perseid Meteor Shower will also be easy to spot, because the meteors can be seen all over the night sky. Do you plan on watching the Perseids this year?

[Image by Jared Tennant via Wikimedia Commons]