The Perseids, Best Meteor Shower of 2018!
See this printable sky map for August to navigate the skies on the night of the great Perseid Meteor Shower—plus, find helpful viewing tips.
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
August Highlight: Best Meteor Shower of 2018
On any clear night, you’re bound to see a handful of meteors, or shooting stars. They occur when small chunks of cosmic debris—called meteoroids—strike Earth’s upper atmosphere at high speed. Friction from air molecules causes the meteoroids to quickly heat and vaporize, and we see them as brief streaks of light.
The vast majority of meteoroids are small—from the size of a pebble to only as big as grains of sand, to even tinier particles no larger than the period at the end of this sentence. Still, in the instant when they are destroyed by air friction, even tiny meteoroids create a bright streak of light—a meteor—for us to enjoy. More rarely, a larger space rock won’t burn away completely as it enters Earth’s atmosphere, and parts of it will reach the ground. Then it’s called a meteorite.
To summarize …
Meteoroid = a rock or other debris traveling through space.
Meteor = a meteoroid that burns up in the atmosphere; a shooting star.
Meteorite = the remains of a meteoroid that reaches the ground.
The few meteors that you see on a typical night are completely random. Occasionally, however, our planet encounters a dense stream of meteoroids, resulting in lots of “shooting stars” in a short period of time—a meteor shower. There are about a dozen major meteor showers each year, along with several minor ones.
The Perseid Meteor Shower
On the night of August 12–13, we’ll be treated to the Perseid meteor shower, or, simply, the Perseids, the best shower of 2018. It’s called the Perseids because the meteors associated with the shower all seem to be streaming away from a point (called the radiant) in the constellation Perseus, as shown on this month’s map.
The source of the meteoroids causing the Perseids is a trail of debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. Every 133 years, Swift-Tuttle passes through the inner Solar System (where Earth is located), shedding small bits and pieces of itself. Each year in August, Earth plows into Swift-Tuttle’s debris stream, and we see a fine meteor shower. For this year’s Perseids, the Moon will be a very thin crescent, and thus its glare will be minimal, allowing us to see rather faint meteors.
To maximize your viewing experience, find a dark location well away from city lights, busy streets, and other sources of man-made illumination. You want it to be as dark as possible, and you want a wide-open viewing site with few trees and other obstructions. A treeless, rural hilltop is ideal. It’s best to recline or lie on a sleeping bag; don’t risk a stiff neck! Be prepared for a chill; even in August, you’ll cool off quickly when lying under the open sky.
Don’t stare at the radiant; the meteors can appear in any part of the sky. Let your eyes wander, perhaps enjoying the stars and constellations featured on the map. Pay the most attention to parts of the sky that are darkest at your viewing site. Following these recommendations, you may see a shooting star every couple of minutes. Several minutes may pass with no meteors at all, and then you might see several in quick succession—so don’t get discouraged!
August 2018 Sky Map
Click here or on image below to enlarge this map (PDF).
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
Note: How to Read the Sky Map
Our sky map does not show the entire sky. Instead, the monthly map focuses on a particular region of the sky where something interesting is happening that month. The legend on the map always tells you which direction you should facing, based on midnight viewing. For example, if the map legend says “Looking Southeast,” you should face southeast when using the map.
The map is accurate for any location at a so-called “mid northern” latitude. That includes anywhere in the 48 U.S. states, southern Canada, central and southern Europe, central Asia, and Japan. If you are located substantially north of these areas, objects on our map will appear lower in your sky, and some objects near the horizon will not be visible at all. If you are substantially south of these areas, everything on our map will appear higher in your sky.
The numbers along the white “Your Horizon” curve at the bottom of the map are compass points, shown on degrees. As you turn your head from side to side, you will be looking in the compass direction indicated by those numbers. The horizon line is curved in order to preserve the geometry of objects in the sky. If we made the horizon line straight, the geometry of objects in the sky would be distorted.