The annual Perseid meteor shower arrives late this weekend, peaking Monday night on Aug. 12-13.
The Perseids are considered to be one of the best shows of the year, along with the Geminids in mid-December. The challenge this year will be a bright moon, which can wash away fainter streaks of light.
What causes the annual meteor shower?
The Perseid meteor shower actually commenced on July 17 and will continue through Aug. 24, which is why we occasionally see a few meteors before or after the peak on Aug. 12.
Meteors are composed of rapidly moving pieces of cometary debris arising from the tail of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which trails away from the sun. The tiny debris collides with Earth’s upper atmosphere, moving at 132,000 miles per hour, eliciting fast-moving streaks of light. The comet concludes one orbit every 133 years.
The most important element, of course, is the weather. Will the sky be clear, or at least partly cloudy where you are? Cloud cover, even high thin clouds, will diminish or completely block any opportunity to see streaking meteors.
Where to See the Meteor Showers
Under ideal conditions, we can see up to 60 meteors per hour during the height of the Perseids, but moonlight will likely limit the count to only 10 to 20 under — and that will be under an optimally clear, dark sky.
The best way to view the meteor shower is to scout out a location far away from the city lights. Meteors will emanate from the northeastern part of the sky in the vicinity of the constellation Perseus, but you essentially just have to look up at a fixed point in the sky, if conditions are mainly clear.
The late evening sky this weekend will also feature Jupiter near the bright moon high in the southern sky, aligned with Saturn (to the left) in the southeast. Mars should also be visible late at night (reddish planet) in the southeast.