Look to the Skies: Perseid Meteor Shower Underway!

The Weeklong Lightshow Begins Early Tuesday Morning

Photo Courtesy: Latinoshealth.com

The annual show of space lights continues across the Northern Hemisphere as the Perseid Meteor will be visible amongst the stars again tonight. Annually, this is one of the brightest meteor showers of the year, and this year it will be visible on the nights of August 9 – 13. The best time to see the meteors is right before dawn (when the sun comes up) and the mornings of August 11, 12, 13 and 14 are your best chances. When at peak, there are normally 50 to 75 meteors per hour, the best morning looks to be around August 13.

Will I be able to See the Meteors?
The two biggest factors on how easy it will be to see are on cloud cover and the moon phase. In this case, every night this week should be just about perfect! The forecast is calling for clear skies out there tonight and nearly every other night this week, which will provide optimum viewing conditions. As for the moon phase, we are entering waning crescent phase (fingernail) and it won’t rise until just before dawn, meaning the moon will provide very minimal light pollution. This month’s New Moon is August 14th, which is the morning you should expect the least amount of moonlight.

What is the Cause of these Meteors?
The reason for all of these meteors is the Comet Swift-Tuttle. Every year during the end of July and most of August, the Earth passes through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle and its debris. As the Earth moves into the path of the Comet, the debris pieces move into our upper atmosphere lighting up the sky. It is said that the meteors are moving at a speed of 130,00 miles per hour!

According to earthsky.org, “Comet Swift-Tuttle has a very eccentric – oblong – orbit that takes this comet outside the orbit of Pluto when farthest from the sun, and inside the Earth’s orbit when closest to the sun. It orbits the sun in a period of about 133 years. Every time this comet passes through the inner solar system, the sun warms and softens up the ices in the comet, causing it to release fresh comet material into its orbital stream. Comet Swift-Tuttle last reached perihelion – closest point to the sun – in December 1992 and will do so next in July 2126.”

Due to the uncertainly of the size and density of the debris path that the Earth will travel through, it can sometimes be hard to determine what the intensity of the shower will be. Remember to give yourself at least an hour of observing time, because meteor showers come in spurts and are intermingled with lulls.

Where do I Look?
First of all, try to get as far away from other sources of light pollution as you can. This means that you should try to go to a rural area away from the city. Remember, your eyes can take as long as twenty minutes to truly adapt to the darkness of night.

Once outside and adapted to the darkness you should be able to see the meteors by just looking up at the sky. However, they all seem to start at the same place, near the constellation Perseus the Hero, which is where it gets its name as the Perseid Meteor Shower. The location of this in the sky should be just to the northeast and a little bit into the sky. As the night goes on this will move more to the east and higher into the sky.

Earthsky.org also notes “The stars in Perseus are light-years distant while these meteors burn up about 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the Earth’s surface. If any meteor survives its fiery plunge to hit the ground intact, the remaining portion is called a meteorite. Few – if any – meteors in meteor showers become meteorites, however, because of the flimsy nature of comet debris. Most meteorites are the remains of asteroids.”

The Perseid meteors on Tuesday morning won’t be as plentiful as they are at its peak around August 12-13, but a another shower, the Delta Aquarids, is also going on and adding to the mix.

So get those cameras and lawn chairs ready (maybe even a blanket), grab a cooler full of drinks and snacks, head out to the middle of nowhere and enjoy the lightshow!

Have fun watching the skies!
Brandon Spinner
Chief Meteorologist