Every year, between July and August, Earth hurtles through debris left behind in the wake of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, gifting us with the most active meteor shower in the Northern Hemisphere. This week, we’re plowing through the densest part of the comet’s stream, meaning we’re at peak shooting stars – and 2021 is a particularly good year thanks to the New Moon.
Meteors are known as shooting stars due to flashes of light caused by the pieces of dust and rock – some as small as a grain of sand – burning up in the atmosphere as Earth moves through the comet's tail.
On any given night, stargazers can expect to see around two meteors an hour. The Perseids (Per-see-ids) last from around July 16 to August 23, so your chances of catching one shooting across the sky is high, but during its peak – this year August 11-13 – you could see an incredible 60-100 meteors per hour.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation they seem to appear from, in this case, the constellation Perseus. In reality, they appear from all directions in the sky so you don't need to look in any particular direction – just up.
You also need a good dark sky with no bright Moon getting in the way. Luckily, August’s New Moon was on August 8, which means it won't be interfering with the shower and the skies should still be dark and clear by midweek. If you want, you can check out what time Moonrise is in your area here.
The Perseids often leave persistent trains and typically increase in numbers as the night goes on, with the most meteors visible in the hours before dawn. You don't need any special equipment to view the shower. In fact, a telescope is the last thing you want as you don't want to focus on just one part of the sky. As with any meteor shower, the further you are from bright lights, the better. You should let your eyes grow accustomed to the dark, around 15 minutes should do it. We also recommended lawn chairs and blankets; get comfy, we should be In for a good show.
As a failsafe, you can always watch along with NASA's live stream of the shower from its Marshall Flight Center in Alabama, starting on August 11.
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.