- Editor’s Note: Although the Perseids meteor shower viewing peaked Aug. 13, you can still see meteors for days and even weeks afterward.
Make plans now to stay up late or set the alarm early Sunday (Aug. 12, 2018) or Monday (Aug. 13, 2018) to see a cosmic display of “shooting stars” light up the night sky. Known for its fast and bright meteors, the annual Perseid meteor shower is anticipated to be one of the best potential meteor viewing opportunities this year.
The Perseids show up every year in August when Earth ventures through trails of debris left behind by an ancient comet. This year, Earth may be in for a closer encounter than usual with the comet trails that result in meteor shower, setting the stage for a spectacular display.
“Observers should be able to see between 60 and 70 per hour at the peak,” NASA says on its website. “Remember, you don’t have to look directly at the constellation to see them. You can look anywhere you want to-even directly overhead.”
Every Perseid meteor is a tiny piece of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 133 years. Each swing through the inner solar system can leave trillions of small particles in its wake. When Earth crosses paths with Swift-Tuttle’s debris, specks of comet-stuff hit Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate in flashes of light. These meteors are called Perseids because they seem to fly out of the constellation Perseus.
Most years, Earth might graze the edge of Swift-Tuttle’s debris stream, where there’s less activity. Occasionally, though, Jupiter’s gravity tugs the huge network of dust trails closer, and Earth plows through closer to the middle, where there’s more material.
How to Watch the Perseids
The best way to see the Perseids is to go outside between midnight and dawn on the morning of Aug. 12. Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up.