Perseid Meteor Shower: Viewing Tips, History, and Future | The Old Farmer's Almanac

The 2016 Perseid Meteor Shower


The Perseid meteor shower comes from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which has an interesting history and future.

Photo Credit
Adam Block/University of Arizona
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The best meteors of the year occur with the Perseid meteor shower, so get viewing tips for the meteor shower and learn about the history (and foreboding future) of the Comet Swift-Tuttle.

Everyone loves when “shooting stars” rip across the sky. Well, the game is on. Each night from now on, there will be more and more from the Perseid meteor shower. The peak intensity happens this Thursday August 11 and the following night. Whichever is clearest and least hazy, that’s your night. Check your local 7-day forecast to find out what the weather will be like.

Viewing Tips for Meteor Showers

You always see more meteors when the background sky is dark. That means getting away from city lights. And if you’re serious about this, start watching after the Moon sets, meaning after 1 AM this Friday morning, or after 2 AM on Saturday morning.

You’ll then get a double-boost. The meteors ramp up their intensity in the hours before dawn, when the Moon is absent.

Spread out blankets or lounge chairs. Don’t stare through little breaks between trees. Get into the open. It’s a cheap date, and a romantic one. 

If it’s mostly clear and not too hazy, you’ll see 15 meteors an hour before midnight and 60 an hour in the wee hours. You can easily go five minutes seeing none at all, so don’t get discouraged and quit. During another random five minute period you might catch 10 of them. The trick is to keep your eyes glued skyward. 


History and Future of the Comet Swift-Tuttle

In 1862, two American astronomers, Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle, discovered a new comet that orbits the sun every 133 years. Soon, Comet Swift-Tuttle proved to travel on an identical path of each of these meteoroids that strike us this week. Therefore, all these meteors are icy fragments from that one comet.

That comet’s large 15-mile nucleus, its super high speed (80 times faster than a bullet), and the fact that it periodically passes near us, makes it the most hazardous object in the known universe. For example, in 4479 it will pass only a few times farther from us than the Moon. A near miss.

And sooner or later we’ll probably collide with Swift Tuttle—with an impact 27 times more explosive than the event that killed the dinosaurs. So the shooting stars this week, each only the size of an apple seed, are harmless. But they’re portents of dangerous times ahead. Read more about the chances of a major collision with the Earth.

A little confused about how meteors are different from comets? Find out how meteors are classified here

Read more about the Perseid meteor shower here, and check the Meteor Shower Calendar for the dates of other major meteor showers like the Geminid meteor shower in December.

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