The Perseid meteor shower is currently at its peak, and if you are lucky enough to have a clear sky and low light pollution, you could see dozens of meteors streak across the night sky. The Perseids are considered one of the most impressive meteor showers to view, with high rates of bolides and rather mild temperatures at night, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.
The best time to watch the Perseid meteor shower is not ideal – you can blame it on the moonlight and on the sunshine, but not on the boogie. At the moment, it is almost a full Moon, which reduces the number of meteors visible per hour from roughly 60 to 20. To achieve prime visibility, you should stay up late or wake up early. The Moon will set around 4 am (in New York) and twilight will begin shortly after, so that’s your window to maximize observations.
However, if you don't want to be awake at those unsociable hours, you can still see a good number throughout the night. And if you don't see them tonight, remember this is just the peak of the shower and meteors will be visible until late August. NASA is also streaming a live broadcast of the event.
The name Perseids comes from the constellation of Perseus, the part of the sky they seem to radiate from. The meteors are the debris leftover by periodic comet Swift-Tuttle that comes close to the Sun every 133 years. In its many orbits around our Star, it lost a stream of material located in a region the Earth crosses every August. This ejected cometary material has been hanging around in space for a few thousand years, with a tiny bit of it captured by our planet’s gravity and burning up in the atmosphere.
The density of the cloud varies, so you might see a grander spectacle during certain years than others. For example, 2016 had a fantastic peak of 150 meteors per hour.
If you’re curious about the Perseids and want to know about their impact on our culture (and how they are connected with a murder), check out the video below: