This famous shower comes around this time every year when the earth drifts through a cloud of debris left behind by the giant comet 109P / Swift-Tuttle. Dust particles, pebbles, and other cosmic debris invade our atmosphere and burn up in short, bright streaks and even the occasional full-blown balls of fire that roam the night sky.
In 2020, the Perseids are expected to peak on August 11th and 12th, when the moon should be a little less than half full.
The popularity of the shower is a combination of the fact that with an average of up to 100 visible meteors per hour, it is one of the strongest and coincides with warm summer nights in the northern hemisphere. The waning moon will likely wash out a lot of otherwise visible meteors, but that still leaves a lot that should be easy to spot if you plan a little.
See how the Perseid meteor shower makes a heavenly scene around the world
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In general, it is a good strategy to look for the Perseids at your location as late as possible in the evening but before the moon rises. For example, in New York City on Tuesday evening (peak night) around 11 p.m. you want to be as far away from all this light pollution as possible, as the moon will rise about an hour later at 12:08 p.m. on Wednesday. (With a website like TimeandDate.com, you can look up sunset and moonrise for your location.)
You can also try blocking out the moon by standing next to a building, tree, or anything else that will keep some of the moonlight away from your retina.
The moon will completely disappear after the middle of the month, and although the Perseids have passed their prime they will still be active and visible. This half-height shower with a completely dark sky could roughly correspond to the full top with a bright moon, so don’t think Got to go out on the peak night to catch it.
When you’ve settled on the perfect time and place with minimal light clutter and expansive views of the sky, just sit back, let your eyes adjust and relax. Pillows, blankets, lounge chairs and refreshments make for the ideal experience. It may take about 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. So be patient. If you follow all of my advice, you are guaranteed to see a meteor.
It doesn’t matter where you look in the sky as long as you have a wide view. That is, the Perseids seem to shine from the constellation of Perseus, the hero. If you want to practice being an advanced meteor finder find Perseus and try to focus there while you watch. Then try to just look up without concentrating anywhere. Check if you can see any difference. We are still dealing with nature’s unpredictability, so the results will vary.
Probably the best part of the Perseids every year are the beautiful photos we get from talented astrophotographers who spend long nights outside.
As always, if you catch any beauties yourself, please let me know on Twitter or Instagram @EricCMack.