The Best Meteor Shower of the Year Peaks Tonight. Here's How to See It
The Perseids are the can't-miss stargazing event of the summer.
Every year, there are two meteor showers to look out for if you're looking for a showstopper. The Geminids in December are regularly plentiful. And then there's the Perseids in August, which are gorgeous and often display the most meteors per hour of any shower during the year. These two are not always the showers that produce the most meteors, but it's often the case.
This year is one of those cases. The weeks-long Perseid display will reach its peak the night of Wednesday, August 11, into the morning of Thursday, August 12. Make plans around this one because it's going to be worth your time.
Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist that this year's Perseids could produce up to 100 meteors per hour. Moreover, the Perseids are a shower that's rich in fireballs, which are meteors that burn especially bright as they crash into Earth's atmosphere. Those two factors, along with nice weather of mid-August, come together to make this one of the most exciting stargazing events of the year.
How to See the Perseid Meteor Shower
The night of August 11 is your best bet for seeing this beautiful display. "You'll also have good rates on the night of August 12," Cooke notes. "Personally, though, I'd go out on the night of August 11."
Cooke recommends heading out around 11 pm on either night. That's when you'll start to see a lot of meteors streaking across the sky. That will last into the morning hours of August 12 or 13, depending on what night you go out because
most often, meteor showers are at their best after midnight.
If you're going, you'll want to be sure you head toward dark skies. Light pollution is heavy in cities and reaches well beyond the borders of the city. If you're contending with light pollution, many of the meteors will be obscured. Use a site like Dark Sky Finder or other map to track down dark skies near you.
Wherever you're positioned, plan on being outside for a while. It can take up to 30 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness, which will allow you to see as many meteors as possible. To that point, it's also worth avoiding looking at your phone, which negatively affects your night vision. The same goes for flashlights, unless they're colored red.
From what direction do the Perseids come?
When you plop down to watch the shower, you should face north. The meteors -- the debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle -- will appear to be coming from the constellation Perseus if you trace the streaking meteors back to their origin. The constellation itself can be found low in the northern sky early in the evening, per EarthSky.
However, you don't need to stare straight at the radiant. In fact, you shouldn't. The meteors aren't going to streak across that point, but be moving away from the radiant. You want to take in as much sky as possible to maximize the number of meteors you'll see. So, lean back and look up.
If you spot meteors going in a different direction, you might be seeing meteors from the Southern Delta Aquarids. That shower peaked in July, but is still active. It, however, isn't producing very many meteors at this point. Still, you might spot some.
You're on your way to seeing one of the most stunning celestial displays on offer in 2021.
Ready to go stargazing?
Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners, the best meteor showers of 2021, or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities.