Best times to view the Perseid Meteor Shower

Photo credit: WLOS Staff

Astronomers at the Learning Center at PARI in Transylvania County say the Perseid Meteor Shower can be viewed this weekend.

Meteors result from particles of dust causing the atmosphere to glow as the particles enter the upper atmosphere of the Earth. The Perseid Meteors, or "Perseids," are associated with Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. In 1866 Giovanni V. Schiaparelli, an Italian astronomer more widely known for discovering the "canals" on Mars, determined that the path of the particles resulting in the Perseids was identical with the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle which had been observed in 1862. This discovery was confirmation of a then innovative theory that meteor showers result from the debris of comets, a theory now widely accepted in astronomical circles. Since the Earth encounters this debris at the same point in space each time it makes its annual revolution around the Sun, we observe the Perseids close to the same date each year, around August 12.

At their peak, the Perseids are predicted to reach a peak of about 60-70 meteors per hour around 9:00 p.m. EDT, the nights of August 11-12 and 12-13. Stargazers observing the Perseids will also have the opportunity to see Mars (until about 4 a.m. local time) and Saturn (until 2 a.m.). The Perseid Meteor Shower is one of the more reliable showers and lasts for several days on either side of its peak. The Perseids are best observed between about 11 p.m. and dawn from a clear, dark location with a good horizon. Look to the northeast to find the meteors appearing to radiate out of the constellation of Perseus the hero (just below the "W" of Cassiopeia). Binoculars or telescopes are not needed to observe meteor showers.

Thus, while the nights of August 11-12 and 12-13 should be best for observing Perseids this year, a few Perseids can be spotted before or after this date. The moon will be very close to a new moon, meaning the skies should be dark for optimal observing this very popular meteor shower in the predawn hours.

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