How to Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower Next Week, Now with Double the Meteors

Thursday, 04 August 2016 - 11:47AM
Space
Astronomy
Thursday, 04 August 2016 - 11:47AM
How to Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower Next Week, Now with Double the Meteors
Each year, the Perseid meteor shower lights up the sky when Earth travels through the cloud of dust and debris trailing behind an ancient comet. And this year, the shower will be twice as amazing, because there will be twice as many meteors to feast your eyes on when it peaks on August 11-12.

The stream of debris is called the Perseid cloud, and trails in the wake of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Every piece of debris that careens into our atmosphere, creating the flashes of light in the meteor shower, is a tiny piece of the comet, which ejects trillions of small particles in its wake. The comet has a 133-year orbit, and most of the particles in the Perseid cloud have existed for approximately a thousand years.

Opening quote
"Here's something to think about. The meteors you'll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago," said Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environments Office in a statement. "And they've traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth's atmosphere."
Closing quote

Here's how to watch the Perseid meteor shower, because if you're ever going to watch it, it should be this year:

Who can see it?


The Northern hemisphere will have a clearer view of the spectacle, but it can be seen all over the world (for countries very far south, like Australia, the further north you go the clearer it will be). As always, it is paramount to find clear skies, away from clouds and city lights. So if you live in the city, you might want to try to go out into the country.

Where to look


The meteors will appear all over the sky, so you can pretty much look anywhere, but they will appear to be radiating from the constellation Perseus (hence their name), which can be found if you look northward.

Perseids

When to watch it


The Perseids have technically already started, as the shower began on July 17 and ends on August 24. The shower's peak is on August 12, which occurs when Earth passes through the densest area of the comet's tail. This is the time that you will see the most meteors, but you can start watching for them now, and continue looking for them after the 12th.

It will be a little more difficult to see them on August 11, since the moon's light will interfere with the brightness of the meteors in the sky. The best time to watch the shower on the 12th will be after moonset, which will take place at 1am your local time. On both days, the Perseus constellation will appear at 10pm local time,but the best time to view the meteors will be 3am to dawn (so bringing some caffeine couldn't hurt). You'll also want to give your eyes approximately 45 minutes to adjust to the dark for an optimal viewing experience, according to this video from NASA:



What you'll see


This year will be a more spectacular viewing experience than ever, as we'll be able to see twice the number of Perseids in the sky as in previous years. This unusual "outburst" is the result of our positioning within the comet's tail; usually, we only pass through the outskirts of the tail, but this time Jupiter's gravity might pull the stream closer to us, allowing us to pass straight through the middle.

Opening quote
"Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of Aug. 11-12," said Cooke. "Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour."
Closing quote


Watch online


Streaming the event is probably a little anticlimactic compared to the real thing, but if you live too close to city lights and can't get away, then you can stream the event on NASA's UStream channel, which will start broadcasting on August 11-12 and August 12-13 at 10pm ET.



Image credit: Flickr/Trevor Bexon

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