While August signals the end of summer vacation for students and teachers, for sky-watchers the month signals the beginning of the Perseid meteor shower. This annual event occurs when the Earth passes through the path of debris left behind by the Comet P/SwiftTuttle. The Perseids, like all meteor showers, are named for the region of the sky that the meteors seem to radiate from. The Perseids radiant is within the constellation Perseus.
The meteor shower lasts slightly longer than a month, beginning around July 17 and ending around August 24. The best times for viewing, when the maximum number of meteors could be seen (under ideal conditions), is the peak night, on August 13th. The best time for viewing the meteors is after midnight and in the couple of hours before the Sun rises. At this time, our position on the Earth will face directly into the “cloud” of debris.
This year the peak night is 3 days before full Moon which is good news because the waxing gibbous Moon will set at around 4-5 am local time as the area around the Pleiades and the radiant rise in the east. This leaves maybe 2 hours of viewing before the sky brightens too much.
Where should you look to find Perseus and the meteors? For those viewing from mid-northern latitudes (40-50 degrees Perseus rises around midnight over the northeast horizon. By early morning, the Perseids radiant is very high, nearly overhead toward the north horizon. In addition to weather conditions, the Moon phase also affects the quality of meteor viewing. This year, 2018, the Moon will be a very thin waxing crescent Moon setting shortly after the Sun so it will not interfere with viewing the Perseids.
Here is a wonderful short video about a falling star by Sascha Geddert.
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