If you’d like to wish on a shooting star, this week is a great opportunity. The Perseid meteor shower will peak on Wednesday, August 12th and Thursday, August 13th.
Every year, Earth’s orbit around the Sun carries it through a cloud of dusty, rocky debris left in the wake of Comet Swift-Tuttle. When those particles burn up in our atmosphere, they create the bright streaks of light we call meteors. Swift-Tuttle itself hasn’t graced us with a flyby since 1992.
It takes about a month for Earth to pass through the comet’s debris cloud. This year’s Perseid meteor shower started on July 17th, and it won’t end until about August 24 — but this week, we’re passing through the densest section of Swift-Tuttle’s debris, and that means more meteors burning up in our atmosphere. The show should be pretty intense; predictions range from one meteor every few minutes to 100 meteors an hour streaking across the night sky, so if you’re the wishing type, you may want to make a list in advance.
In a happy coincidence, this week’s peak meteor watching nights are also the nights just before the new Moon, so the sky will be at its darkest, making the Perseid meteors easier to see. You’ll still want to find a dark place to watch the meteor shower, as far as possible from city lights. You won’t need a telescope; just look northeast, and you should be able to see the meteors with your own eyes.
The view will be best in the hours right before dawn, but you should have a good chance to catch the show all night from anywhere in the northern hemisphere.
Top image: Nick Ares via Wikimedia Commons