Do you like shooting stars? If so, mark your calendars for August 8-10, when you’ll have the best chance of seeing the annual Perseid meteor shower (pronounced PER-see-id). The Perseids are usually considered to be one of the best meteor showers of the year! What’s in store for 2022? Read on!
What Is the Perseid Meteor Shower?
The Perseid meteor shower is named after Perseus, the constellation from which it appears to emanate. Almost all meteors seen on August nights will be members of the Perseid stream—tiny bits of space debris left by 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.
Some of the Best Shooting Stars of the Year?
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 trails (technically called 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.
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 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.
And if the peak night is cloudy, don’t fret—the Perseids can be seen on multiple nights. 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 20, and the last stragglers have been seen as late as August 24.
What’s In Store For The Perseids in 2022?
Unrolling a sleeping bag in the open air is a fine way to enjoy summer meteor showers. Each year, many unsuspecting campers probably receive a startling initiation into astronomy by looking up at the sky when the Perseid meteors are near maximum. Peak activity in 2022 is expected during the overnight hours of August 13.
Unfortunately, this year, the bright light of the full Sturgeon Moon will seriously obscure the view. Observers are better off looking for the Perseids during the brief intervals of dark sky that occur between moonset and the start of morning twilight. For North American observers, this window lasts about two and a half hours on the August 8, ninety minutes on August 9, and a half hour on the morning of August 10.
Most of these “shooting stars” would be identifiable as the Perseids because their paths, extended backward along the line of flight, would intersect near a point on the border between Perseus and the “W” of Cassiopeia (Queen of the Sky). This lies low in the northeast around 10 in the evening but climbs almost overhead by the first light of dawn. That’s why although the number of meteors will be low during the evening hours, there is a crescendo of 45 to 90 meteors per hour after midnight.
Another August Shower: The Kappa Cygnids
As August progresses and the Perseids wane, a new meteor shower will take center stage: The Kappa Cygnids runs from August 3-25 and peaks on August 17, 2022. Although this shower produces only a handful of meteors each hour, some of them are flaring fireballs.
Be on the lookout for outstandingly bright meteors called “fireballs,” and others that pop like a strobe light known as “bolides.”
Unlike many other showers, the Kappa Cygnids are associated with no known comet. Best viewing is in the early evening, when the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan is nearly overhead.
Want to know when the next sky event will take place? Follow our monthly Night Sky Guides here.
Don’t miss the next meteor shower! Take a look at our Meteor Shower Calendar here.
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Joe Rao is an esteemed astronomer who writes for Space.com, Sky & Telescope, and Natural History Magazine. Mr. Rao is a regular contributor to the Farmers' Almanac and serves as an associate lecturer for the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.