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How to watch the Perseids – the best meteor shower of the year

The last few months have delivered several spectacular celestial phenomena, including the rare “super flower blood moon” lunar eclipse, “ring of fire” solar eclipse and a beautiful super strawberry moon. But now the best meteor shower of the year, Perseids, arrived, promising to bring spectacular shooting stars into the summer sky.

Astrophotographers will want to ensure that their telescopes and cameras are ready for this epic cosmic event, which delivers incredible photos every year.

What are the Perseids?

The Perseids are active every year from around July 14 to August 24, according to NASA. The meteor shower peaks in mid-August, peaking this year on August 11, 12 and 13.

Under ideal conditions, sky watchers can expect to see up to 100 meteors per hour – a much higher amount than most other downpours. NASA considers this the best shower of the year, and it’s always a crowd pleaser.

Meteors are very fast and bright, regularly leaving long tails of light and color behind them as they cross the sky at around 37 miles per second. They are also known for their fireballs, large explosions of light and bright colors that last longer than an average meteor streak.

The Perseid meteors, which are remnants of comet particles and broken asteroid fragments, appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus, earning the shower its name. The constellation is not the actual source of the meteors, so viewers do not need to determine its exact location to spot shooting stars.

How to watch the Perseids – the best meteor shower of the year
The 2018 Perseid meteor shower with the Milky Way, taken in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Alps.

Getty Images

The comet responsible for the Perseids is called 109P / Swift-Tuttle, discovered in 1862 by Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle. It orbits the sun once every 133 years, last passing through the inner solar system in 1992.

The comet’s nucleus is 16 miles in diameter, almost double the size of the object that scientists say wiped out the dinosaurs, NASA said.

When and where to watch the Perseids

The Perseids occur on hot summer nights, making them easily visible to all around the world, especially in the northern hemisphere. The meteors will be visible from mid to late evening, starting at 9 p.m., and will continue to improve before dawn, after 2 a.m.

Earlier in the night, sky watchers had the opportunity to spot a rare land grazer, a long, slow and colorful meteor moving on the horizon. In the southern hemisphere, meteors will start to appear around midnight.

“If those hours seem intimidating, don’t worry! You can go out after dark, around 9pm local time, and see a few Perseids,” NASA said. “Just know that you won’t see as many of them as if you were out early in the morning.”

How to watch the Perseids – the best meteor shower of the year
The Perseid meteor shower over the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party on August 10, 2018, with a bonus aurora.

VW Group Pics / Universal Images via Getty Images

Weather permitting, NASA recommends finding a location with a clear view of a large part of the sky. On peak mornings this year, moonlight will not interfere with the show, with the moon only in its crescent phase and 13% full, ensuring the sky remains dark enough to spot shooting stars.

Lie on your back and gaze up into the air, giving your eyes several minutes to adjust before admiring as much of the sky as possible for at least an hour. You won’t need any special equipment or knowledge of the constellations to see the show.

Peak showering isn’t your last chance to spot meteors – they can still be clearly seen for about 10 days afterward. Additionally, the Southern Delta Aquariid and Alpha Capricornid meteor showers are still active until mid-August, adding to the dazzling light show.

If you are unable to watch the Perseids, live broadcasts are available. NASA typically broadcasts the event live on its Meteor Watch Facebook page, and the Virtual Telescope Project has a live broadcast on August 11.

After the Perseids, the next meteor shower will not occur until October, when the Orionids light up the sky.


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