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Here’s How (and When) to Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower This Week

A time-lapse photo of the Perseid meteor shower in 2016.
A time-lapse photo of the Perseid meteor shower in 2016. Lukas Schlagenhauf/CC BY-ND 2.0/Flickr
Skywatchers and astronomy geeks are in for a show this week, but only if they’re willing to stay up late or get up early. The annual Perseid meteor shower will light up the nighttime skies over Arizona (and the entire northern hemisphere for that matter) as countless shooting stars zoom overhead.

The Perseids, so named because they appear to emanate from the constellation Perseus, happen in late July through early August every summer and bring upwards of 60 meteors per hour during peak nights.

This year, the meteor shower will peak on the evening of Wednesday, August 11, into the early morning hours of Thursday, August 12. If you’d like to check out all these shooting stars, what follows is a guide with details about when and where to look.

What Causes the Perseid Meteor Shower?

Various ice particles, rock, dust, and other celestial detritus from comets, basically. Every year, the Earth’s orbit causes it to pass through this interstellar matter, which is shed by comets as they pass through the solar system. It hits our atmosphere and turns into meteors. The Perseids are specifically caused by our planet coming into contact with the trail left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle in July and August.

When Do the Perseid Meteor Showers Take Place?

Meteors will be zooming through the night sky from now until late August, with the Perseids' peak happening in the late hours of Wednesday, August 11, into Thursday, August 12.

When’s the Best Time to Look?

According to skywatching website EarthSky, your best bet is to start looking just before midnight on Wednesday into the early hours of Thursday. Again, you can still see shooting stars on the nights before and after those dates, but the peak will offer upward of 60 meteors per hour.

Where Should You Look?

Generally, you’ll want to look toward the constellation Perseus in the northeastern sky, which astronomers say is where the meteors appear to be coming from (a.k.a. the radiant). You can use skywatching apps on Android and iOS like Star Map and StarGazer to find the constellation.

Where Are the Best Locations to See Meteors?

Anywhere where there are open stretches of the darkened sky. 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 the sprawl, consider taking a trip out to the boonies. Pete Turner of the Phoenix Astronomical Society told us last year he recommends going to spots on the north or east side of the Valley (like Carefree, Fountain Hills, or Queen Creek – since you won’t have to look through metro Phoenix’s light pollution.

What Will Viewing Conditions Be Like?

The current forecast calls for mostly clear conditions on Wednesday evening and throughout the week, so there should be few (if any) clouds getting in the way. The sky should also be relatively dark, as the moon will be in its waxing crescent phase and will set relatively early in the evening.

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.