Astronomers don’t spend all of their nights staring at a few favorite stars, or searching for novae or navel-gazing. Sometimes we’re treated to something more obvious; something anyone can do without any training or study: meteor showers. This August, the Perseid meteor shower will peak during the night between August 12th and 13th, so unless you’re in the middle of monsoon season, why not make the time to enjoy it?
This year the Perseid meteor shower is slated to be the best of its kind in five years. Why? Two things. Firstly, there will be no Lunar interference, as it will be absent from the night sky, and the Earth will have made an unusually close pass through the stream of space debris leftover from Comet 109/P Swift-Tuttle, the cause of the shower. This highly anticipated close pass means that the meteor shower will last for several hours, much longer than the Perseid shower usually does.
PERSEIDS AND PERSEUS
Meteor showers are given a name with respect to the constellation they compliment with their radiant, majestic display, because this is where it might appear to the eye they are being generated from. The Perseids are thusly named because they occur within the constellation Perseus, in the northern part of the horizon. The constellation rises above the horizon just before 10 P.M., and will reach its highest point a few minutes before dawn. This means the best hours to view the show will be between midnight and morning twilight.
You may not need to know where Perseus the radiant is in the sky, since he will obviously be radiating enough beauty on his own to attract even the first-time skywatcher, but if you’d like to find him ahead of time, you could look for the easily identified W of Cassiopeia. Perseus will rise to the right of the W. If that doesn’t help, you can trace the path of the meteors back to their respective origins should guide your eyes to Perseus’ approximate position.
PERSEID SHOWER TO BE HEAVY AND EXPLOSIVE
Since the meteor shower is going to be so high-frequency and last so long, that the meteor shower will be viewable for several nights before and after, albeit of lesser intensity. When you do go out to look for the shower, make sure you face Northeast. As Perseus climbs into the sky, the direction of your gaze will matter less and less, as the meteors will appear to be falling all over the sea. Indeed, between 2 a.m. and sunrise, you might do better looking south, because by then any meteors you see will be from a large angle, and so the meteors will trace long streaks across the sky.
However you prepare, make sure to mark the night of the twelfth in your calendar, because the Perseid meteor shower will feature fireballs, those bright and long-lasting meteors, an experience well worth having.