Before sunrise on Saturday August 11th, Sunday August 12th, and Monday August 13th look toward the east and southeast for ‘shooting stars’, or meteors. The short-lived streaks of light are radiating outward from the area of the constellation Perseus the Hero. These are the annual Perseids – one of the best meteor showers each year. And these three days are centered more or less on the peak.
The Perseid Meteor Shower is named for the constellation from where the meteors radiate outward. This is the same for all meteor showers, and the ‘spot’ in the sky is known as the radiant. The Perseid radiant, as shown in the graphic, is within the Perseus constellation, and under ideal viewing conditions (dark and moonless skies) an average of about 60-80 meteors per hour could possibly be seen. This year without the interference of moonlight will increase the chances of seeing the meteors.
The peak for this year’s Perseids is Monday September 13th at 1 UT (8 pm CDT) however Perseus and the radiant rise at around 11 pm local time. A couple of hours later should be high enough over the horizon to become visible. I always look for a triangle made from using the Pleiades open star cluster, the bright star Capella in the constellation Auriga, and a not as bright star, Mirfak in Perseus. The radiant is up to the left from Mirfak as the graphic shows.
Best viewing times for seeing the Perseids are early morning a few hours before sunrise after Perseus has risen. This is an ideal time as the part of Earth you are viewing from is rotating toward the east, in the direction the Earth is revolving around the Sun. This means you will be seeing metaors ‘head-on’ as the enter the atmosphere.
Meteor showers result from the Earth’s orbital path intersecting areas of comet debris. Comets, as they orbit the Sun, leave behind pieces of their icy, dirty, selves. If these debris clouds happen to be along the Earth’s orbital path then the Earth will regularly pass through the comet debris cloud. As this happens the small comet pieces hit our outer atmosphere and vaporize from the friction generated heat. We then see these as the shooting stars that make up meteor showers.