It takes some spectacular entertainment to get people out of the house these days. The Perseid meteor shower certainly qualifies as such, as it promises an action-packed and awe-inspiring evening for viewers.
And all it requires is a tank of gas and maybe a sense of adventure.
It's the biggest meteor shower of the year and will cause a massive light show in the skies over the next month. Running from late-July until mid-August each year, the Perseids (so named because it appears to emanate from the constellation Perseus) are a major attraction for skywatchers and astronomers alike.
The best time to view the meteor shower is during its peak. According to Pete Turner of the Phoenix Astronomical Society, that will happen from Tuesday, August 11, to Thursday, August 13, when upward of 50 meteorites will be visible per hour.
“It's the number of meteors that makes the [Perseid] meteor shower the biggest,” he says. “It's something that we look forward to every year.”
What else do you need to know about this year’s Perseid meteor shower? Here’s a guide with all the details.
When Do the Perseid Meteor Showers Take Place?
From now until late August, basically. Shooting stars will streak through the skies during the next few weeks until approximately August 24. The peak period of this year’s shower, when the greatest number of meteors occur, will be between Tuesday, August 11, and Thursday, August 13.
So What Causes All These Meteors?
Meteor showers are caused by the Earth passing through various swaths of dust, rock, and ice left behind by comets. When that matter hits our atmosphere and burns up, it results in a shooting star. Every August, Earth’s orbit crosses paths with the detritus of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which barrels through our solar system every 130 years.
“Swift-Tuttle is a huge comet that’s three times as big as NEOWISE, so there’s a lot more debris that’s been shed that we’ll be passing through,” Turner says.
When's the Best Time to Watch the Perseids?
You’ll see meteors every over the next four weeks, with the frequency steadily increasing as we get closer to mid-August. That said, the three-night peak of the Perseids from August 11 to 13 is arguably, your best time to look based on the sheer number of meteors.
“If you're out looking during the peak nights, there’s a good chance you'll see several dozen meteors and at least one fireball or more during the span of [one hour],” Turner says.
Local astronomers recommend looking between 10:30 p.m. and midnight during the peak nights. Moonrise will take place shortly before or after midnight each evening and the light will mar all but the brightest meteors, Turner says.
Where In the Sky Should You Look?
In the northeastern sky toward the general area around the constellation Perseus, which is the radiant (or starting point) for the meteor shower. Comets will appear to emanate from there.
Are There Any Apps You Can Use?
To find Perseus, yes. Skywatching and stargazing apps for iOS and Android like Star Chart, SkySafari, and Solar Walk all can be used to locate the constellation. It’s not necessary to pinpoint the stars to see the meteors, though. It just gives you a general idea of where to look.
Where Are the Best Locations for Viewing?
Anywhere with wide-open skies that are as dark as possible. In other words, you’ll want to head for the outskirts of town and away from the vast light pollution of the Valley.
“If you're in downtown Phoenix, you're going to have a tougher time [spotting meteors],” Turner says. “It doesn't mean you won't see any, there will just be a lot fewer because of the light pollution.”
Since you’ll be looking toward the northeastern sky, Turner also recommends heading for areas on the north or east side of town, such as Carefree, Fountain Hills, or Queen Creek.
“If you're in Buckeye or Avondale, you may have a more difficult time than, say, Cave Creek or Apache Junction because you'll have to look through Phoenix's [light pollution] to see Perseus,” he says.
What Will the Viewing Conditions Be Like?
Depends on the night. We’re in the middle of the monsoon season, so storms and cloud cover will vary. Be sure to check the weather before heading out.
Will You Need a Telescope or Binoculars?
Nah. Meteors will be moving so quickly that you won’t really be able to track them. Besides, they’ll largely be visible to the naked eye.
What Else Should You Keep in Mind?
Claude Haynes of the East Valley Astronomy Club suggests bringing a blanket or chair to be able to kick back in comfort while skywatching. He also recommends stowing your smartphone in order to enjoy the show.
“Let your eyes adjust to the dark,” he says. “A cellphone can take away your dark adaptation pretty quickly and you want your [pupils] to be as wide open as possible to try to see things that are faint.”
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