This year’s Perseid meteor shower will peak around Friday or Saturday, but the full moon is likely to reduce the fan-favorite event’s visibility.
When and where should you look for the meteors, and what is the Perseid shower?
The Herald-Leader spoke with Thomas Troland, a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Kentucky, about tips for viewing this year’s Perseid shower. Here’s what to know.
What is the Perseid meteor shower?
The Perseid meteor shower gets its name from its “radiant,” the constellation Perseus, which is where the meteors appear to come from.
Their actual source is the Swift-Tuttle Comet, discovered in 1862 by American astronomers Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle, according to NASA. Swift-Tuttle orbits the sun once every 133 years.
“A meteor shower is something that occurs when the earth passes through the debris field of a comet,” Troland said.
The earth passes through the debris field from late July to late August. It goes through the richest part of the debris field Aug. 11, 12 and 13 or so, which is why the shower will peak at that point, Troland said.
There are about 12 or so meteor showers each year, Troland said, but the Perseids is perhaps the most popular for two reasons.
The Perseids, under good conditions, can produce more visible meteors per hour than most showers. The other reason Perseids are a fan favorite is they occur in the summer, when viewing is more comfortable.
What will this year’s Perseids look like?
“The term ‘shower’ is usually something of an exaggeration,” Troland said. “If you were to go out on a good, dark night without the moon to see a typical meteor shower, including the Perseids, then you might expect to see a meteor every minute or so.”
The moon’s brightness will make it more likely a stargazer will see a meteor about every 10 to 15 minutes during this August’s peak, Troland said. It could be 30 minutes or an hour between visible meteors.
But this doesn’t mean you won’t get to see the Perseids this year. You can try your luck during the peak and full moon Friday and Saturday, or you can look around Aug. 20 to 23 after midnight, when the shower will still be going on, but the moon will be well into its waning phase.
The Perseids will be “a little less spectacular than during the peak” later in August, Troland said, but moonlight won’t be as big of an issue when trying to spot the meteors.
Whenever you decide to look for Perseid meteors this month, seek out a stargazing spot with as little light as possible and the broadest view of the sky, without trees or buildings obscuring your chance to see the meteors. You won’t need a telescope or binoculars.
“It’s best to have a friend with you to chitchat, maybe a cup of hot chocolate or something, whatever your beverage might be,” Troland said.
You can expect to spend about an hour looking for meteors. To avoid neck strain, you could use a reclining lawn chair or lie on a blanket.
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