Perfect for the Perseids

Diana Hannikainen, Observing Editor, Sky & Telescope
+1 617-500-6793 x22100, [email protected]

Rick Fienberg, Press Officer, American Astronomical Society
+1 202-328-2010 x116, [email protected]

Gary Seronik, Consulting Editor, Sky & Telescope
[email protected]

Note to Editors/Producers: This launch is accompanied by high-quality graphics; see the finish of this launch for the photos and hyperlinks to obtain.

The Perseid meteor bathe, a celestial occasion beloved by tens of millions of skywatchers round the world, is about to make its annual return to the night time sky. The bathe is predicted to succeed in its peak earlier than daybreak on Thursday, August twelfth, although the show may placed on a wonderful present for an evening or two earlier than and after. Late on the night time of August 11−12, you may see a Perseid each minute or so. This year circumstances are as close to to good as will be: The waxing crescent Moon units round 10 p.m. native time, which means darkish, Moonless skies till daybreak.

Begin watching for meteors quickly after night twilight ends. By then the bathe’s radiant — its perspective level of origin in the constellation Perseus — has risen above the northeastern horizon. The few Perseids that seem this early will likely be spectacularly lengthy “earthgrazers” that skim alongside the high of the ambiance. The greater the radiant, the extra meteors you’ll see — so when Perseus climbs greater in the northeast, particularly after midnight, extra meteors will seem throughout the sky.

To get pleasure from the Perseids, you want no tools however your eyes; binoculars and telescopes present too small an space of sky to be helpful for meteor-watching. Find a darkish spot away from shiny lights with a wide-open view throughout if attainable. “You’ll want to make yourself comfortable to fully enjoy the show — craning your neck for many hours can ruin your experience,” cautions Diana Hannikainen (pronounced HUHN-ih-KY-nen), Sky & Telescope’s Observing Editor. Bring a reclining garden chair or a floor fabric so you’ll be able to lie again. Bundle up in blankets or a sleeping bag, each for mosquito shielding and for heat; clear nights can develop surprisingly chilly even in August. Next, calm down, be affected person, and let your eyes adapt to the darkness.

“These ‘shooting stars’ can appear anywhere and everywhere in the sky — you don’t have to look toward the radiant to see them,” says Hannikainen. “So the best direction to watch is wherever your sky is darkest, usually straight up.” Faint Perseids seem as tiny, fast streaks. Occasional brighter ones may sail throughout the sky for a number of seconds and depart a quick prepare of glowing smoke.

When you see a meteor, hint its path again to its origin. If you ultimately come to the constellation Perseus (see the accompanying sky chart), you’ve simply witnessed a Perseid. Occasionally you may spot an outsider. The weaker Delta Aquariid and Kappa Cygnid showers are additionally lively throughout Perseid season, and there are all the time just a few random, “sporadic” meteors too. All of those come from different components of the sky. It’s a enjoyable train to hint meteors again to their radiants: If the tracks don’t lead you to Perseus, they aren’t Perseids!

Any mild air pollution or cloudiness will lower down the variety of meteors seen. But the brightest ones shine proper by means of mild air pollution (although normally not by means of clouds). In reality, a NASA evaluation of all-sky photos taken from 2008 to 2013 exhibits that the Perseids ship extra shiny meteors (people who outshine any star) than every other annual meteor bathe.

How and Why the Perseids Happen

Meteors are attributable to tiny, sandgrain- to pea-size bits of dusty particles putting the high of Earth’s ambiance roughly 80 miles (130 km) up. Each Perseid zips in at 37 miles per second, glowing because it burns to soot and creating a fast, white-hot streak of superheated air. The nuggets in Grape Nuts cereal are an in depth match to the estimated dimension, colour, and texture of typical meteor-shower particles.

The Perseid bits have been shed way back by Comet Swift-Tuttle and are distributed all alongside the comet’s orbital path round the Sun. Earth passes by means of this tenuous “river of rubble” each year in mid-August. The comet is so named as a result of it was independently found by Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle in July 1862.

Read extra on this year’s Perseids in the August 2021 challenge of Sky & Telescope and on S&T‘s web site: Fine Show Expected from the Perseid Meteor Shower.

Sky & Telescope is making the illustrations beneath obtainable to editors and producers. Permission is granted for nonexclusive use in print and broadcast media, so long as acceptable credit (as famous) are included. Web publication should embrace a hyperlink to

Perseid radiant
The Perseid meteors seem to stream away from the bathe’s “radiant” level close to the border of Perseus and Cassiopeia. Click on the picture for larger star-chart version. Also obtainable in HD format.
Sky & Telescope illustration
Perseid meteor animation
Click on the nonetheless for an 18-second video animation of simulated meteors, exhibiting tips on how to find the radiant of the Perseid meteor bathe, and the way these “shooting stars” will seem in the sky.
Sky & Telescope illustration
Handful of Grape Nuts
The nuggets of Grape Nuts cereal are a great proxy for the cometary mud grains that create meteor showers.
Sky & Telescope

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