The Best Meteor Shower of the Year Peaks Tonight. Here's How to See It.
The Perseid meteor shower is going to put on a show this week. Here's everything you need to know.
One of the best annual meteor showers -- arguably the best -- is peaking tonight, and it's the perfect, brief escape from the daytime world.
The Perseid meteor shower is created from debris left behind by the passing of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which won't be back this way again until 2125. That debris crashes into Earth's atmosphere, leaving bright streaks across the sky that you can see under dark skies. The Perseids last for weeks, but the peak of the shower -- the night when it's most active -- comes on Tuesday, August 11, into Wednesday, August 12.
Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist that the Perseids are expected to produce 60-80 meteors per hour at its peak this year. If you want to see the best the Perseids have to offer, here's what you need to know.
When does the Perseid meteor shower peak?
The Perseids hit their peak the night of August 11 into the morning of August 12. Cooke says the meteor shower is best seen after midnight local time when the Earth (or where you're standing) is facing into the trail of comet debris that causes the display.
However, NASA says that the hours around dawn in the days around the peak aren't a bad time to look for meteors either. Though, there certainly won't be as many visible meteors as you'll see on the night of the peak.
How to see the Perseid meteor shower
Whether you go out after midnight or the days around the peak, you should be able to see some meteors. However, that "out" needs to be somewhere outside of a city and away from the heavy light pollution of urban areas. That light will obscure the vast majority, if not all, of the meteors that could be visible.
That will be especially important this year because the shower is contending with a last-quarter moon that will likely wash out some of the meteors. Fortunately, the Perseids are known for having a fair quantity of fireballs, which are particularly bright meteors. The display is also known for leaving persistent trains -- the long tail of the meteors -- that can stay visible for multiple seconds under the best circumstances.
Wherever you go, it's best to sit or lie on the ground, looking about halfway up the sky, the American Meteor Society says. The meteors could streak anywhere above you. Though there is a point from which they all radiate, but more on that in a moment. Plan on being outside for a while, because it can take up to 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness making it possible to see fainter meteors.
From what direction do the Perseids come?
When you plop down to watch the shower, face north. The meteors 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. It will rise some and move to the northeast as the night turns to the early hours of August 12.
However, you don't need to stare straight at the radiant. The meteors aren't going to streak across that point, but be moving away from it. You want to take in as much sky as possible to maximize the number of meteors you'll see.
If you see meteors coming from another direction, you may have seen one from the Delta Aquarid meteor shower that peaked in July. This shower is still active but isn't producing many meteors at this point. Nonetheless, you could see a couple.
What else to look for
On the morning of August 13, Venus will reach its greatest western elongation. That's the point when it's at the furthest part of its orbit from the sun. For viewers with feet on Earth, it'll hit its highest point in the morning sky that morning. It'll be the second and last elongation for the planet this year. Though, Venus is very bright and is shining bright most mornings right now. If you miss it tonight or the morning of August 13, it'll still be high in the sky and bright for a while.
With good weather and a little patience, you could get a wonderful late-summer show this week.