- The Perseid meteor shower typically produces 50 to 100 meteors per hour.
- The shower occurs every year when Earth passes through the debris cloud left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle.
- No special equipment is needed to enjoy this nighttime spectacle, just dark skies and a bit of patience.
What NASA calls the “best meteor shower of the year” – the Perseids – will peak Thursday and Friday evening, according to the American Meteor Society. But astronomers might be disappointed: the moon will be 100% full, which can spoil the show with its bright light.
“Unfortunately, this year’s Perseid peak will see the worst possible circumstances for observers,” NASA astronomer Bill Cooke said in a statement. “Most of us in North America would normally see 50 or 60 meteors per hour, but this year during the normal peak the full moon will reduce that number to 10-20 per hour at best.”
The best performance of the Perseids in recorded history was in 1993, when the peak rate exceeded 300 meteors per hour, according to NASA.
Despite the full moon, the best thing about the Perseids is that they can be enjoyed during the heat of summer, unlike the often chilly nights of the Leonids in November or the Geminids in December.
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What causes the Perseids?
The Perseid meteor shower occurs each year when Earth passes through the cloud of debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. Meteors are actually tiny dust and particles that come from the comet’s tail as it orbits the sun.
The particles, many no bigger than a grain of sand or a pea, explode into the sky at 132,000 mph and disintegrate high in our atmosphere after making a brilliant flash of light.
Perseids are also known for their fireballs, NASA said.
“Fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can linger longer than an average meteor trail,” the agency said.
Meteor showers are named after the constellation they appear to come from, according to the American Meteor Society. Look for the constellation Perseus in the northeast part of the sky. It’s just to the left of the Pleiades, the constellation of the Seven Sisters.
Who was Perseus?
In ancient Greek star lore, Perseus is the son of the god Zeus and the mortal Danae, according to EarthSky. The Perseid Shower is said to commemorate when Zeus visited Danae, Perseus’ mother, in a golden shower.
No special equipment is needed to enjoy this nighttime spectacle, just dark skies and a bit of patience, which might be lacking this year due to the full moon.