Each August, sky watchers are treated to one of the best light shows of the year, as the Earth’s orbit around the Sun crosses through the Perseid meteor shower. The Perseids are an annual meteor shower named after the constellation Perseus, which sits in the area of the sky where the shower appears. The shower’s peak occurs around August 12th each year.
The meteors seen during the shower are created by the dusty trail left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle as it orbits the Sun. The particles from this trail burn up in our atmosphere, becoming meteors, also known as “falling” or “shooting” stars.
The Perseids shower will be visible from July 23rd through August 22nd, with the highest period of activity on or near August 12th. The meteors can be seen with the naked eye. The best time to observe any meteor shower is during the early morning hours, between 2 and 5 a.m., but meteors will be visible any time after dusk, with a sharp upturn in activity around 11 p.m. Generally, observers can expect to see as many as 60 meteors per hour.
To see the Perseids, look for the constellation Perseus in the northeast. It sits near Cassiopeia, which looks like a large letter “W.”
Unfortunately, this year’s peak activity coincides with the full Moon, which makes the sky too bright for ideal viewing. Though the peak won’t be as spectacular as usual, there are still plenty of other days for catching the Perseids both before and after the full Moon.
The meteor shower also coincides with a few other less exciting showers which combine forces with it to pack even more of a visual punch. The shower begins as July’s Alpha Capricornoids are waning, while the tail end of the Perseids overlaps with the Kappa Cygnid shower, which peaks on August 18. You can tell Perseid meteors apart from the others not only because they appear to originate from Perseus, but also because they are some of the fastest moving meteors each year.