Perseid Meteor Shower - Photo by Prokhor Minin on Unsplash

The Perseid Meteor Shower Is The Best of this Year

The most popular and probably best-known meteor shower of the year, the Perseid Meteor Shower lights up the sky in August. Though active through most of the month, the celestial spectacle peaks during the night between the 11th and 12th. That’s the night you should try to watch it, since you’ll see more meteors.

During the peak times, you can expect to see between 50 and 100 meteors shooting across the sky per hour. You might even see fireballs, larger and brighter than the normal meteors.

This year, the show might be even better, since we’ll have a new moon. In other words, the moon is at a waxing crescent, with only a narrow sliver illuminated. This means darker skies, making the Perseid Meteor Shower more visible, seemingly brighter.

Why We See Meteor Showers

Meteor showers occur several times during each year, reminding us how active our universe is. Millions of particles, rocks ranging in size from a grain of sand to large boulders, float in the universe. We call them meteoroids. When they inevitably hit our planet, most of them burn up in the atmosphere, creating bright streaks of light we know as meteors. A few of they survive the friction and land on our planet once in a while. We call them meteorites.

Some forms of particles hit earth’s atmosphere all the time; according to astronomers, we could see a few meteors each night. But with few and far between, we tend not to notice them often.

However, several times a year, our planet passes through higher concentrations of spacial debris left behind by trails of a comet. During these times, we see many of these particles burn up in the atmosphere, resulting in meteor showers.

The Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid meteor shower is probably the most popular of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Part of the reason has to do with it happening in the summer when nights are pleasant for outdoor viewing. But it is also one of the best meteor showers of the year, featuring a high number of meteors, and it is steady. Others include the Leonids in November, the Geminids in December, and the Lyrids in April, among others.

This year, 2021, is one of the best for viewing the Perseids (at least where the smoke from the wildfires doesn’t obstruct the views). The crescent moon sets early in the evening, offering full dark skies for most of the night, the perfect background for any meteor shower. Its peak is predicted to be on the night between August 11-12, and the nights before and after, from late night til dawn.

As the name suggests, the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus. But you don’t need to recognize the constellation to watch the shower; The meteors are all over the sky. Visible all night, the Perseid meteors usually show up in the largest numbers right before dawn.

Like all meteor showers, the Perseids are due to our earth passing through the orbit of a comet. The parent comet of the Perseid shower is the Swift-Tuttle, one of the largest comets we know of. Its double name is due to the fact that it was discovered independently by two astronomers at about the same time.

How To Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower

According to NASA’s website, some of the first Perseids showed up in the sky on July 26th, so if you are out long enough in the night, you might spot a few. However, if you want to see the largest concentration, go out closer to the peak.

If you are in a dark night place in Arizona or anywhere else on the Northern hemisphere, you can see as many as 40 meteors in an hour. In cities, it will be considerably less, but you can still see a few even with the light pollution.

The best thing about meteor showers, especially great ones like the Perseids, is that you don’t need any special equipment to see them. Just find a dark spot where you can comfortably lay on the ground, and look up into the sky. Give your eyes about 20 minutes to adjust to the dark, and enjoy the show.

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