Don’t Miss “Prime Time” for the Perseid Meteor Shower

Astronomer Fred Bruenjes recorded a series of many 30 second long exposures spanning about six hours on the night of August 11 and early morning of August 12, 2004 using a wide angle lens. Combining those frames which captured meteor flashes, he produced this dramatic view of the Perseids of summer. There are 51 Perseid meteors in the composite image, including one seen nearly head-on.
Credit: Fred Bruenjes

The best-known meteor shower of the year should be a good time this year on the peak night of August 11, with no bright Moon to interfere.

August brings the best-known meteor shower of the year, the Perseids. This annual meteor shower happens each year as Earth crosses the debris trail of comet Swift-Tuttle. Most of these meteors are grains of dust up to the size of a pea, and they create fabulous “shooting stars” as they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. Every August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet’s orbital debris. This debris field — mostly created hundreds of years ago — consists of bits of ice and dust shed from the comet which burn up in Earth’s atmosphere to create one of the premier meteor showers of the year.

Although Perseids can be seen from mid-July through late August, the most likely time to see any is a couple of days on either side of the peak. This year the peak falls on the night of August 11th, and into the pre-dawn hours of August 12th. (Think of that as “prime time” for the Perseids.) Under really dark skies, you could see almost one per minute near the time of maximum activity.

This year’s peak night for the Perseids benefits from a Moon that sets early in the evening, so it won’t interfere with the fainter meteors. But before it sets that evening, be sure to check out that gorgeous crescent Moon in the west after sunset with the brilliant planet Venus.

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