Moonless nights will make the spectacle of the annual Perseid meteor shower even more scintillating this weekend for much of the world between August 2 and August 4.
The shower will actually peak with the most number of meteors during the early morning hours of August 11, 12 and 13 — which coincides with a bright moon that may outshine the Perseids.
Once evening falls, expect to see a meteor, or a “shooting star,” streaking across the sky every few minutes. Hopefully, clear skies will allow for the best viewing.
And if your view is obscured by weather or clouds this weekend, the Perseids are visible for the next week. The Perseids will also overlap with the Delta Aquariids meteor shower.
Delta Aquariids appear to come from the constellation Aquarius, visible in the southern part of the sky, while the Perseids will be in the northern part of the sky.
What are the Perseids?
The Perseids have presented a scintillating display for 2,000 years, according to NASA. The comet Swift-Tuttle orbits the sun once every 133 years, so every August, the Earth passes through the comet’s debris field. The ice and dust, accumulating over a thousand years, burn up in our atmosphere to create the meteor shower. The Perseids showcase more bright meteors than any other annual meteor shower.
The meteors can be traced to the Perseus constellation, from which they get their name, which will climb in the northeastern sky as the evening passes. From our perspective, the meteors all seem to come from a single point called the “radiant,” but that’s because they are moving parallel to each other.
When the “radiant” is highest in the sky, we’ll see the most meteors. But “Earthgrazer” meteors, which skim Earth’s atmosphere and showcase long, blazing tails, are visible earlier when the radiant is low above the horizon.
The meteors themselves are traveling at 132,000 miles per hour, which creates their vivid streaks of light. They can reach between 3,000 and 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit during this shower.
The comet itself will come extremely close to Earth in a “near-miss” in 2126.
How to watch
NASA scientists advise that although they can be seen any time after 10 p.m., the best time to spot a flurry of meteors will be during the darkest part of the night, in the early hours before dawn, from 11 p.m. to first light.
Patience is key. It can take up to 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark for optimal viewing. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but they look the brightest against the darkest sky, which is straight up.
Some meteors only have faint, quick streaks. Others are brighter and can appear to sail across our sky for several seconds, leaving a glowing smoke trail.
The best way to view the meteor shower is by sitting in a reclining lawn chair or lying on your back and looking up at the sky with a wide view. No special equipment is needed, but if you want the best view, it helps to be as far from artificial light as possible.
If you live in an urban area, you might want to take a drive to avoid city lights, which can make the meteor shower seem faint. Scientists from NASA also said that camping out in the country can triple the amount of visible meteors.
And don’t forget to grab your camera before you head out. Meteor showers are a great opportunity for time-lapse videos and long-exposure photography, allowing your shots of the night sky to turn into van Gogh-like paintings of this starry spectacle.