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Here's When to See the Biggest Meteor Shower of the Year This Weekend

A time-lapse photo of the Perseid meteor shower over Flagstaff in 2010.
A time-lapse photo of the Perseid meteor shower over Flagstaff in 2010. Logan Brumm Photography
Skywatchers are in for a treat over the next few nights as the biggest meteor shower of the year will be happening overhead. Numerous shooting stars will streak through the nighttime skies above Arizona and the rest of the Earth, courtesy of the Perseid meteor shower.

Occurring every August, the annual celestial event features more than 50 or 60 meteorites visible per hour burning through our atmosphere and providing a spectacular show. As local astronomer Pete Turner told Phoenix New Times in 2020, it's a major skywatching event and a sight to see.

“It's the number of meteors that makes the [Perseids] the biggest,” says Turner, a member of the Phoenix Astronomical Society. “It's something that we look forward to every year.”

Like other meteor showers, the Perseids (which get their name from the fact they appear to emanate from the constellation Perseus) are caused by the Earth passing through a trail of ice, dust, and other stellar matter left behind by a passing comet — in this case, 109P/Swift-Tuttle.

Each year, the Perseids begin in late July and take place through late August and early September. The number of meteors steadily grow each night, reaching an apex in intensity in mid-August. In 2022, the peak will occur on Friday, August 12, and Saturday, August 13. (There will be a roughly similar amount of meteors on the nights before and after the peak.)

This year, there are a couple of wrinkles, though, which will be caused by the moon and Arizona’s summertime monsoon weather.

The peak of this year’s Perseids coincides with August’s full moon on Thursday, August 11, which will diminish the number of visible meteorites. Claude Haynes of the East Valley Astronomy Club told New Times recently that a portion of the Perseids will still be able to be seen, despite the brightness of the moon.

“People love the full moon but astronomers hate it. It's not because we're not romantic; it's because the moon is bright and it interferes with viewing and makes things that much harder to see [in the sky] that are fainter,” he says. “So you're still going to get to see the brighter [meteors], but not necessarily the smaller, fainter ones.”

Overcast skies due to monsoon thunderstorms, which frequently occur in the evening, might obscure the sky altogether, depending on your location.

Haynes says it's still worth going out of your way to see the Perseids, despite these challenges.

“It’s time well spent since you can get away from your screens for a few hours at least and enjoy the outdoors,” he says.

Haynes has a few suggestions on how to best view the Perseids, such as traveling to parts of the metro Phoenix area where the sky is darkest or refraining from using illuminated electronic devices to allow your eyes to adjust.

“Obviously, you want to be in an environment with as little light as possible and where your eyes are dark-adjusted to be able to see the meteors,” he says.

Read on for more tips on how to see this year’s Perseid meteor shower, and get info on when and where to watch the celestial event unfold in the skies.

When’s the Best Time to Watch?

According to amateur astronomers like Haynes and the folks at the American Meteor Society, you'll want to start looking just after midnight on Friday, August 12, and Saturday, August 13. That's when the constellation Perseus starts rising in the sky each night.  (Again, you can still see shooting stars on the evenings before and after those dates, but the peak will offer the greatest possible number of meteors.)

Where Are the Best Places for Skywatching?

Basically, anywhere with open stretches of sky that are far away from light pollution or street lamps. You’ll be able to see meteors anywhere in the Valley, including in the middle of the city, but your odds improve if things are as dark as possible.

If you live on the outskirts of the Valley, you should already be good to go. If you’re in the middle of metro Phoenix, consider taking a trip out to the boonies. To wit: Haynes suggests spots like north of New River or west of Buckeye.

“You want to go somewhere where it's really dark, which sometimes means going a few miles out of town,” Haynes says. “We sometimes go to Picket Post Trailhead out [east] on Highway 60 past Phoenix.”

You can also hit up the website Clear Sky Chart, which offers skywatching and visibility forecasts for specific locations.

Where in the Sky Should You Look?

Perseus is located in the north/northeastern sky, which astronomers say is where the meteors from the Perseids appear to be coming from (a.k.a. the "radiant"). If you’d like to find the constellation’s exact location on any given night, skywatching apps on Android and iOS like Night Sky and Stellarium are helpful.
click to enlarge
A time-lapse photo of the Perseid meteor shower in 2015.

How Do You Get Your Eyes to Adapt to the Dark?

That’s easy, Haynes says. Just stop looking at any bright source of light — be it an illuminated device like your phone or the moon — for at least seven to 10 minutes. “You’ll want to be dark-adapted to best be able to see meteors, so you’ve got to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness,” he says.

How Do You Deal With the Moonlight?

Haynes says the moon will be located roughly opposite from Perseus in the southern sky after it rises on August 12 and 13, moving from the southeast to the southwest. “So the moon will be to your back when it's lighting up the sky,” he says. “As long as you're dark-adapted and not looking at the moon, it's not going to be in your line of sight, which should help to a degree.”

What Will Weather Conditions Be Like?

The current forecast calls for partially cloudy skies on Friday night and early Saturday. That said, monsoon weather tends to be mercurial (no pun intended) and can change rapidly on any given evening. In other words, your experience may vary depending on your location. The Dark Sky website offers hyperlocal weather forecasts for a specific area, if you'd like to determine what weather conditions will be like that night.

Does It Help to Have a Telescope or Binoculars?

Not really. You can use them to check out the stars, planets, and other stellar phenomena, though.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.