The Best Meteor Shower of the Year Is Just Days Away. Here's Why It's so Special.

You have lots of option when viewing meteor showers. The pilot and crew would like to thank you for choosing Perseids meteor showers.

perseid meteor shower 2020
The Perseid meteor shower photographed in 2016. | Jason Weingart / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
The Perseid meteor shower photographed in 2016. | Jason Weingart / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

If you love stargazing, every major meteor shower is cause for celebration (especially if by "celebration" you mean sitting quietly outside and staring up at the stars). It's a fun bonus addition to any night of stargazing. However, few showers produce the constant show that time-lapse photos like the one above promise. Almost every year, the Perseid meteor shower is one of those rare spectacles, and the display will hit its stunning peak on the night of August 11 into the morning of August 12.

The Perseids and the Geminids are generally the show-stopping meteor showers each year. Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist that in 2020, the Geminids will actually produce around 100 meteors per hour at its peak in December and the Perseids will produce slightly fewer at 60-80 per hour at its peak on August 11. Nonetheless, even when the Geminids outpace the Perseids, it's the latter shower that deserves the slightly arbitrary, amorphous title of "best." Here's why.

The Perseids have a boatload of meteors

The most obvious reason you hear the Perseids referred to as the "best" is that the shower, made from the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle, has an abundance of meteors. In 2020, Cooke says to expect 60-80 meteors per hour. Though, in the early part of the evening, some of the fainter meteors will be washed out by moonlight. 

Yes, the Geminids are going to produce more, but 60-80 is upward of a meteor per minute, and that's a whole lot more than any shower this side of the Geminids. The next most abundant shower in 2020 is the already-passed Eta Aquarid shower, which produced 20-30 per hour. The Eta Aquarids are followed by the Orionids (20 per hour) and the Lyrids (15 per hour). 

One word: Fireballs

The Perseids aren't just raining down the beige paint of meteors. The shower is known for producing fireballs, which are exceptionally bright meteors. It also frequently has meteors with persistent trains, a long tail on the meteor, making them better-looking and effortless to see. Some of those trains even last for seconds after the meteor has passed. 

I mean, it's just nice outside

This year and most years, if you're looking to crown meteor shower royalty, it's really between the Geminids and the Perseids. This is the real tie-breaker: The Perseids happen in August, and it's a perfect time to lie out in the grass to watch meteors for an extended period of time. The Geminids may be spectacular, but they require a little dedication because they land in December. With both showers best viewed after midnight (Cooke tells Thrillist that the Geminids are best seen after 2am), it's a whole lot easier to maintain your patience when the weather is on your side. 

They're both worthwhile spectacles, especially in a time of social distancing, and you don't have to pick one or the other. You can see both! Still, it's clear that the Perseids are a show you don't want to miss. It's your best opportunity to see an active meteor shower with no chance of catching frostbite or losing your holiday cheer.

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

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.