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 should be seen (under ideal conditions), will occur after midnight, August 12th</sup<. At this time, our position on the Earth will face directly into the "cloud" of debris.
Where should you look to find Perseus and the meteors? For those viewing from mid-northern latitudes (40-50 degrees Perseus rises during evening 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. Fortunately the Moon, at waxing gibbous, sets a couple of hours after midnight and will not be affecting the viewing of the Perseids. As a result this year should be one of the better for seeing the Perseid meteors. Of course having written this it will probably rain or be overcast!
In addition to the meteor shower look just above the radiant area for the double star cluster of NGC 869 and NGC 884. These two are just visible to the naked eye as a somewhat elongated fuzzy smear of light, but through binoculars or wide-field eyepieces in a telescope the two are easily seen as separate entities.
Here is a wonderful short video about a falling star by Sascha Geddert.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.