Among the top three most prolific meteor showers, the Perseids are the undisputed (shooting) star of the summer months in the Northern hemisphere. However this year, a jealous Moon is set to make the spectacle less brilliant. But worry not, there are a few tips and tricks that can help attenuate the brightness of the Moon – a spectacle in its own right.
First of all, while it peaks on August 12, the shower will continue until August 24. And the peak has an expected 100 meteors per hour, so even with the impediment of the Moon, it will still be possible to see dozens every hour.
Meteor showers get their name from the region of the sky they seem to originate from, known as the radiant, usually a constellation or a star. The radiant for this particular meteor shower, as the name suggests, is the constellation of Perseus.
Looking at this constellation is a good place to start your search. Look to the North East, and you’ll find it. You’ll want to find an area where you can shade yourself from the Moon, and remember to leave time to let your eye adjust to the darkness (so no phone). There are other showers active at this time but if it’s a fast one, you can bet you spotted a perseid.
Meteors are nothing but the left-over grains of dust and ice from comets and asteroids that crossed the orbit of our planet. The origin of the Perseids is the periodic comet Swift-Tuttle, which visits the inner Solar System every 133 years. When comets get closer to the Sun, they begin to evaporate, releasing debris into long tails. Their orbits are polluted by this material, and whenever they cross Earth's orbit, we experience a meteor shower. When the debris enters Earth's atmosphere, it burns up, and that's the bright light, or fireball, we see shooting across the sky.
The cometary debris remains in space for thousands of years and only a small fraction is captured by Earth’s gravity in its journey around the Sun. When it comes to the Perseids and comet Swift-Tuttle, the comet is a 26-kilometer-wide (16.16 mile) body so it won’t exhaust material any time soon, meaning we can rest assured that the Perseid's beauty will be celebrated for centuries to come.
The next time Swift-Tuttle actually visits Earth in 2126, it will be brightly visible to the naked eye.