August’s Perseid meteor shower is always one of the most accessible sky spectaculars of the year, but this year’s show is expected to be even more spectacular than usual.
The meteoric display is due to reach its peak on Thursday night, heading into Friday morning. But you should be able to see shooting stars all this week, assuming the skies are clear. The best time is after moonset, which occurs around 1 a.m. on the peak night.
The Perseids pop up every year, reaching their height around Aug. 11-13. That’s when Earth passes through a stream of cosmic grit left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. When those flecks of grit streak through the upper atmosphere, they ionize the surrounding air and create the flashes we know and love.
The flashes appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus, which gives the meteor shower its name.
On a great night, under peak viewing conditions, skywatchers can typically see 60 to 90 Perseids per hour. But astronomers say this year’s viewing rate could be even higher. That’s because Jupiter’s gravitational pull perturbed the broad ring of grit back in 2014, pushing more of the particles in Earth’s direction.
This is the year when our planet is due to pass through what’s thought to be the piled-up stream of particles. According to Sky & Telescope, French meteor specialist Jeremie Vaubaillon estimates that the heightened peak should come around 10 p.m. PT Thursday night.
Projections by Vaubaillon, Russia’s Mikhail Maslov and Finland’s Esko Lyytinen suggest that the peak rate could surpass 100 meteors per hour. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour,” said Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
Those figures apply only for peak conditions, however: Your mileage may vary. Speaking of mileage, you should get away from the glare of city lights to maximize your meteor experience. Check out our list of top five places for Seattle skywatchers to see the show.
Here are a few other viewing tips:
- Bring a lounge chair, blanket or sleeping bag and find a comfortable position for looking up into the night sky. Although Perseids seem to radiate from Perseus, they can appear anywhere in the heavens.
- Give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the dark, and don’t expect to see fireworks. Don’t gaze into the glare of your smartphone if you can help it. Bring a flashlight so you can walk safely to your viewing spot, but be mindful of others.
- Consider taking along snacks and a thermos of coffee or some other energizing beverage to keep you alert during the pre-dawn hours.
Fortunately, the weather forecast for the Seattle area calls for clear skies on Thursday and Friday. But if you are clouded out, you can still get your meteor fix via NASA’s video coverage on Ustream, starting at 7 p.m. PT Thursday and Friday.
The Slooh community observatory will present a four-hour webcast about the Perseids starting at 5 p.m. PT Thursday. The program will feature live streams from the Canary Islands, Britain, Canada and Connecticut. There’ll be a follow-up Slooh show at 6 a.m. PT Friday, with extended coverage from Weathernews Japan.
And speaking of more to come, the Perseids will be followed by the Draconids and Orionids in November, the Taurids and the Leonids in November, and the Geminids in December. So be careful when you take in this week’s meteor show: You might just get hooked.