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Ready for some fireworks? Astronomer Bob Berman reports that the famous spectacle of the summer Perseid meteor shower has begun—and will keep intensifying until its peak Saturday night, August 12, a day later than usual. In 2023, the Moon won’t mar the show, and the Perseids will be at their very best with a shooting star every minute!
The post-midnight sky is already ablaze with three times more shooting stars than normal, and each night their numbers increase. There will be a harmless waning crescent (about 12% illumination) that won’t brighten the sky and wash out the Perseids this year! See your local Moon phases.
You’ll see the Perseids just fine if you get away from the lights of any city. If you live in a rural region or in the darker suburbs, you’ll observe them perfectly from your backyard if you follow a few important tips.
First, turn off window lights and let your eyes get dark adapted.
Second, don’t try to watch the sky through breaks between trees. You need a wide open swath of sky, any section of sky will do. Overhead is perfect. If your backyard suffers an obstructed view, good tried-and-true locations include cemeteries, lake sides, and baseball fields.
Third, keep staring at the sky. Don’t just glance upward now and then. These Perseid meteors are superfast. They collide head on with the Earth and sizzle through our atmosphere at 37 miles per second. Each is visible for only a second or two. By the time a companion has shouted “look at that!” you’ve missed it. Therefore, and to avoid neck strain, spread a blanket or use lawn chairs.
Finally, we need mostly clear skies. Ideally it should not be very humid or hazy. We want the kind of night when the heavens seem wallpapered with lots of stars. If Saturday night has a cloudy forecast, watch on Friday when you’ll still see a shooting star every two or three minutes, especially after midnight. Check the short-range forecast here.
But mark August 12 on your calendar, because then you’ll see one a minute starting around midnight or 1 AM. If you have small kids or are impatient to start looking at, say, 9 PM, go right ahead, but be aware that early birds will only see a meteor every four or five minutes or so.
Want more details? See the Almanac’s complete guide to the Perseid Meteor Showers below …
When Are the Perseid Meteor Showers?
The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year from about July 23 to August 22, with the peak from late midnight August 11 to dawn August 13.
The Perseids’ fame comes from the fact that it reliably has the brightest and most numerous meteors. In 2023, if you’re watching from dark skies, expect 50 to 70 shooting stars every hour! That’s about a meteor a minute!
The Perseids can be viewed any time after dark, but for the most avid stargazer, the meteor count is always highest in the predawn hours when the skies are at their very darkest and when your position on Earth is forward to the motion through the dust cloud. See your local moonrise times!
Where to Look in the Sky
That’s an easy answer: When it comes to meteor showers, you can view them from ANYWHERE in the world! It doesn’t matter what state or country you live in. You can also view the shooting stars ANYWHERE in the sky. Just look up!
If you’re an avid sky watcher or have a sky map, it does help to know that 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 the constellation Perseus might therefore help you to see as many meteors as possible.
What Are Meteor Showers?
Meteors, also known as falling or shooting stars, are caused by tiny dust trains entering Earth’s atmosphere from space. Meteor showers occur regularly each year when the Earth crosses the orbit of a comet and its debris enters the atmosphere.
The Perseid shower is associated with the Swift-Tuttle comet. When the tiny bits of dust trains 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.
5 Viewing Tips for Shooting Stars
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.
You’ll need about 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the darker skies, so get out earlier and be patient.
Gaze 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.
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 if you’re worried about being cold; when you are sitting or lying outside at night, your body heat radiates directly into the sky.
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.
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.
Mark Your Calendars
In case both August 11 and 12 are cloudy, we’ll get another chance on December 13, when the great Geminid meteor shower performs under perfect moonless conditions. Then again, that means huddling outdoors in mid-December. So let’s hope the weather cooperates for the summer Perseids!