One of the solar system’s most breathtaking spectacles will be highly visible throughout the US and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere in the upcoming days, putting on what experts predict will be a magnificent show from above for the ages.
The annual Perseids — billed by NASA as “the best meteor shower of the year” with up to 100 meteors visible each hour — is bound to be even better this weekend because “conditions this year couldn’t be more perfect,” according to Sky & Telescope editor Diana Hannikainen.
The moon will be in its waning crescent phase and at only 8% illumination, Hannikainen explained, adding that it also “rises in the wee hours of the morning on Aug. 13 and won’t interfere with viewing.”
The Perseids — named for the Perseus constellation — have actually been ongoing since late July and will continue through the start of September. They’re caused when the Earth routinely crosses paths with debris left over from the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.
Although the proceedings are weeks long, they will reach peak visibility on our third rock from the sun this weekend only.
The shower will also bring a few extra fireworks into our scope.
“Perseids are also known for their fireballs. Fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak,” NASA notes, boasting that the “fireballs are also brighter” than the usual meteors that fly by Earth.
When and where to watch
NASA reports that the main event will kick off around 10 p.m. Saturday.
The best time to gaze at the Perseids this weekend will be overnight Saturday into Sunday — particularly from midnight to about 5:30 a.m., according to the Royal Museums Greenwich.
“Meteors can appear in any part of the sky, so the more sky you can see the better. Find an area with a clear view of the horizon and away from trees and buildings,” the institute recommends.
“Binoculars and telescopes are not necessary as they will restrict the size of the sky that will be visible.”
Eliminating light pollution — the glaze of artificial illumination that bounces off the sky — is also crucial to getting the best seat in the proverbial house, as much of the population above the equator will be privy to the unparalleled views.
“This could mean heading out to the countryside, a nearby park or even do something as simple as turning your back to street lamps if you are not able to go anywhere,” according to the museum.
“Give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the dark so that you can catch more of the fainter meteors – this does mean that you should not look at your phone!”