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Perfect Moonless Nights for the Perseids

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Perfect Moonless Nights for the Perseids

Like shooting stars? If so, mark your calendar for Sunday night, August 12-13th, to view the Perseid Meteor Shower, also know as “the Perseids,” one of the most popular meteor showers of the year.

What Is the Perseid Meteor Shower?

The Perseid Meteor Shower is an annual shower whose name derives from the constellation of Perseus, from which it appears to emanate. Almost all meteors seen on these nights will be members of the Perseid stream; tiny bits of space debris that were shed by the Comet Swift-Tuttle over past centuries. Each meteoroid slams into Earth’s upper atmosphere at 37 miles per second, creating an incandescent trail of shocked, ionized air. It’s this hot trail, not the tiny meteoroid itself, that we see.

At the shower’s maximum, these meteors seem to diverge from a small area in northern Perseus. This is so far north that it’s already above the northeast horizon for most of the country when darkness falls. Hence some Perseids are seen as early as 9 or 10 o’clock. But only after midnight, when the radiant is high in the sky and we have been turned by the Earth onto its forward-moving side, do their numbers really begin to increase. Anyone at mid-northern latitudes who can escape bright city lights might see the oft-advertised 60–90 meteors each hour that makes this shower so gratifying.

See Some of the Best Shooting Stars

Another reason the Perseids are popular: they are swift, bright and colorful. Most are in the range of magnitude +2 to +2½. Fainter meteors are white or yellow; brighter ones are bluish-green. About one-third, including all the brightest, leave luminous trains, a few of which may be spectacular, persisting for many seconds. A few might end in flares or bursts resembling a strobe, capable of casting shadows.

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What’s In Store for the Perseids in 2018?

This year is shaping up to be an excellent year in which to watch for these meteors: the new Moon of August comes on Saturday the 11th, perfectly timed to bring dark, moonless nights around the peak of this shower. Moreover, Earth should pass through the shower’s richest part around 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, August 12th.

Then late Sunday night, into the predawn hours of Monday the 13th, North Americans and Europeans should have the best seats in the house for viewing. Late-summer campers should put their sleeping bags outside the tent to enjoy this “Old Faithful” shower.

How To Watch The Perseids

No two persons prepare for a meteor vigil the same way. Expect the effective low temperature to be far below what local weathercasters predict. When you sit quite still, close to the rapidly cooling ground, and the air is damp, you can become very chilled. It helps to have had a late afternoon nap, a shower, and to wear all fresh clothing. A long reclining lawn chair, heavy blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows are all essential equipment. Some food and non-alcoholic drink will help keep you comfortable. It also helps to have a companion to help you watch the sky (“shower” with a friend?).

And if the peak night is cloudy, don’t fret, for the Perseids last more than one night. Rates are about half to one-quarter of the peak for one or two nights before and after. In fact, the first forerunners of the shower have been known to show up as early as July 20th, and the last stragglers have been seen as late as August 24th.

Check out the fireball at :41

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