The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaks from August 11 to 13. The Perseids are considered the best meteor shower of the year—thanks to meteors streaking across the sky every couple minutes and pleasant summer temperatures. Find out when to watch for the Perseids in 2020 and how to maximize your chance of seeing a shooting star!
When Is the Perseid Meteor Shower?
The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year from about July 23 to August 22, reaching its peak from late midnight August 11 to dawn August 13. The shower’s “maximum”—when the greatest number of meteors per hour fall (50 per hour)—is typically in the pre-dawn hours (when it’s still dark) of August 11, 12, or 13. However, see our viewing advice for best viewing in 2020 below.
How and When to See the Perseids in 2020
Generally, any time is a good time to watch for meteors—especially midnight to dawn—as there is always some dust or other cloud that Earth is plowing through. The meteor count is usually highest in the pre-dawn hours because that is when it’s darkest and when your position on Earth is forward to the motion through the dust cloud.
However, in 2020, the Perseids will be competing with the last quarter Moon (appearing on August 11). It is easier to see meteors when the Moon is not up.
This year, it’s also worth looking before midnight (exceptionally early)—before the Moon rises to create unwanted brightness. See your local moonrise times.
Even with the moonglare, the Perseids fall at a rate of about 50 meteors per hour during their peak nights—and the Perseids are especially bright meteors. So your chances of seeing at least a few meteors are good!
As we approach the new Moon phase, the Moon will rise later and later into the morning so you can still get out. The Perseids are not a one-night event though they may have a “peak” time. You should be able to see them for a few more nights after the peak, at least.
Find more viewing tips below.
What Is the Perseid Meteor Shower?
Meteors occur when Earth rushes through a stream of dust and debris left behind by a passing comet (the Swift-Tuttle comet, in the case of the Perseids). When the bits strike Earth’s upper atmosphere, friction with the air causes each particle to heat and burn up. We see the result as a meteor. See more facts about meteor showers.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs every August, and its fame comes from the fact that it reliably has the brightest and most numerous meteors. Even if the viewing conditions aren’t the best, you’re likely to spot some meteors during the maximum nights of the Perseid meteor shower.
The Perseid shower is named for the constellation Perseus, which is its radiant. A radiant is the point of origin of the meteor shower, so the Perseid meteors will appear to be traveling away from the constellation Perseus in the night sky. Locating Perseus might therefore help you to see as many meteors as possible.
Viewing Tips for the Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseid meteor shower peaks August 12 and 13, 2020.
Normally, the best time to watch is between midnight and dawn. In 2020, the Perseids are best seen before midnight (exceptionally early)—before the Moon rises to create unwanted brightness. See your local moonrise and set times!
Watching a meteor shower could not be simpler. Just go outside on the night(s) of the Perseid meteor shower “maximum” and look up! You can maximize your chances of seeing meteors by finding an open area far from man-made lights. Of course, cloud cover can prevent you from seeing the shower. Check our short range forecast to see whether it’ll be a stormy evening or clear skies.
- Get away from light pollution! You’ll want to avoid city lights. Any hill out in the countryside works. Mountaintops are also great viewing locations because they are usually at a high enough altitude to reduce haze from air and light pollution. Plan a drive or a camping trip!
- It doesn’t matter where you live in the Northern Hemisphere. Everyone can see the Perseids. You’ll have the best luck by gazing at whatever part of the sky is darkest at your location. Though it might be tempting, avoid using binoculars or a telescope. It is better to look at the whole sky than a tiny part of it, and your eyes will automatically move toward any motion up above. Avoid looking at your cell phone or other lights during the meteor shower, as this will damage your night vision.
- While the shower is best when moonlight is absent, you can still watch for shooting stars if the Moon’s around. Just try to face away from the Moon when looking for meteors. Its light pollution will affect the whole sky, but it will be worse closer to the Moon.
- You’ll need about 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the darker skies, so be patient. Being comfortable is important. To avoid a stiff neck, bring a chaise lounge or reclining lawn chair. A sleeping bag on the ground works, too. Find a slight incline so that your head will be higher than your feet. Bring an extra layer of clothes; when you are sitting or lying outside at night, your body heat radiates directly into the sky.
Worried about a meteor hitting Earth while you’re watching? Here’s why you shouldn’t be worried.
History of the Perseids & Comet Swift-Tuttle
The Perseids are the legacy of Comet Swift-Tuttle, discovered in 1862 by Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle. The comet passes through the inner Solar System, where Earth is located, only once every 133 years. Each August, Earth encounters the trail of debris left behind by Swift-Tuttle, and we are treated to one of the best meteor showers of the year.
The rate at which the meteors fall is determined by where Comet Swift-Tuttle is in relation to Earth when Earth crosses Swift-Tuttle’s orbit. The concentration of meteors is higher when the comet is near Earth. In the early 20th century, the peak rate of the Perseid meteor shower was as low as 4 meteors per hour. When Swift-Tuttle was very close to Earth in 1993, however, the peak rate was between 200 and 500 meteors per hour.
The first record of the Perseid meteor shower comes from a Chinese manuscript written in A.D. 36. The Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli linked the Perseid shower to Comet Swift-Tuttle in 1866, four years after the comet was detected by modern astronomers.Learn about the other major annual meteor shower, the Geminid meteor shower, here.
See a schedule of ALL major meteor showers on our Meteor Shower Calendar page.