The Perseid meteor shower is one you won’t want to miss, with a peak-rate of 200 meteors per hour expected to fly across the night sky.
What’s often the best meteor shower of the year — the Perseids — is predicted to be even better than usual when the shooting stars appear in the night sky later this week.
“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of Aug. 11-12,” said Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour,” he said.
An outburst is a meteor shower with more meteors than usual. This occurs when Earth passes through the heart of the tail of the comet Swift-Tuttle as it orbits around the sun.
The meteors are actually tiny dust and particles. The particles, many no bigger than a grain of sand or a pea, disintegrate as they blast into our atmosphere at 132,000 mph, making a brilliant flash of light, the American Meteor Society said.
The last Perseid outburst occurred in 2009, NASA said.
Though the night of Aug. 11-12 will be the peak, some meteors should also be visible on the nights before and after.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation out of which they appear to come, said Vincent Perlerin of the American Meteor Society. Look for the constellation Perseus in the northeastern portion of the sky. It’s just to the left of the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters constellation.
It’s also near the brighter, W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia.
No special equipment is needed to enjoy this nighttime spectacle, just a dark sky and some patience. The best viewing conditions are in rural areas away from the glow of streetlights, said Bob Bonadurer of the Milwaukee Public Museum. If you can’t get out of the city, darker places like parks and golf courses offer the best chance of seeing fainter meteors, he said.
“You don’t need anything, just a blanket and some bug spray,” Bonadurer said. “No telescope, just look up.”
Early morning sky watchers will be rewarded with a dark backdrop for meteors. On Aug. 12, the waxing gibbous moon, which will be about 70% illuminated, will set by 1 a.m. The meteors will then be directly overhead in the moonless hours before dawn.
What’s an extra bonus about the Perseids is that can be enjoyed during summer’s warmth, unlike the often nippy nights during the Leonids of November or Geminidsof December.
The Perseids pose no danger to Earth, NASA said, as most burn up 50 miles above our planet.