When and how to watch the Perseid meteor shower

Aug 11, 2023, 10:54 AM

The annual Perseid meteor shower will peak on August 12 and 13, with the most visibility in the Nor...

The annual Perseid meteor shower will peak on August 12 and 13, with the most visibility in the Northern Hemisphere. A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid event on August 11, 2021, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Mandatory Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA

(CNN) — One of nature’s most stunning light displays is right around the corner.

The Perseid meteor shower will reach its peak this weekend, according to the American Meteor Society. During that window on August 12 and 13, the waning crescent moon will be only 10% illuminated, according to EarthSky.

“With a 10% illuminated waning crescent moon, that means any moonlight we do get will be less and not drown out the fainter stars,” said Dr. Shannon Schmoll, director of the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University, in an email. “It also won’t rise until almost 4am (ET), meaning you have some time to view the meteor shower without any moonlight interfering.”

Like most major meteor showers, the Perseids will be most visible to viewers in the Northern Hemisphere, just a few hours before dawn, and there is the potential to see over 50 meteors per hour streak across the sky.

“The number used to describe the number of meteors you see per (hour) is called the Zenith Hourly Rate. This is how many meteors you could see under the darkest conditions assuming it was radiating from the highest point in the sky,” Schmoll explained. “This is not possible, so it’s always a much bigger number than you’d actually see sitting outside. The ZHR for this shower is 100. That is pretty high, so even without ideal circumstances you will likely see one every couple of minutes or so if you can get to dark skies away from city lights early in the morning.”

The highly anticipated celestial event’s name is a nod to its origins near the constellation of Perseus.

Perseids meteors are fragments of a large comet called Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. When Earth’s path intersects with the comet’s debris field, the annual shower occurs.

The shower began this year on July 14, and will continue until September 1, though not as many meteors will be visible after the peak.

For the best viewing experience, sky gazers should watch the skies from an area without light pollution and check the local forecast as cloudy skies could obstruct your view, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

“Meteor showers result in beautiful streaks of light as debris passes through our atmosphere,” Schmoll said. “Some of these streaks are brighter than others. So the less light around when observing the meteor shower means we are more likely to see fainter meteors.”

You can catch several major meteor showers later this year, according to the American Meteor Society. They will reach their peak on the following dates:

Orionids: October 21-21

Southern Taurids: November 4-5

Northern Taurids: November 11-12

Leonids : November 17-18

Geminids: December 13-14

Ursids: December 21-22

Autumnal equinox

This year, the end of the Perseid meteor shower coincides with the meteorological start of the fall season in the Northern Hemisphere.

Meteorological fall begins on September 1 in 2023 and will end exactly 90 days later, on November 30.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, meteorological seasons are based on the temperature cycle in a calendar year. Climate scientists and meteorologists use this timetable to keep track of the weather every year.

The more commonly celebrated astrological start of fall, the autumn equinox, will take place on September 23.

The timing of autumnal seasons is based on the position of Earth in relation to the sun’s position. During an equinox, the sun passes directly over Earth’s equator, leading to shorter days and generally cooler weather.

Annular solar eclipse

An annular solar eclipse will be visible from the Western Hemisphere on October 14. The eclipse will cross North, Central and South America, according to NASA.

During this cosmic event, the moon will pass between the sun and Earth at its farthest distance from the planet. The distance will cause the moon to appear smaller than the sun, but will not completely overshadow the star, making the moon appear to have a “ring of fire” around it.

Because the sun will not be completely covered, it is not safe to look directly at the sun without specialized eyewear during an annular eclipse.

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When and how to watch the Perseid meteor shower