It’s mid-August, which means the annual Perseid meteor shower is active, and will be until Aug. 24. The Perseids are one of the best, brightest , and though they’ve already peaked, it may be easier to see them now with the moon entering its dark phase.
This famous shower comes around this time every year as the Earth drifts through a debris cloud left behind by the giant comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. Bits of dust, pebbles and other cosmic detritus slam into our atmosphere, burning up into brief, bright streaks and even the occasional full-blown fireball streaking across the night sky.
Technically, the 2020 Perseids peaked on the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 11 and morning of Wednesday, Aug. 12, but that doesn’t mean the show is over. Far from it, actually. The moon is just a small crescent in the night sky Monday night and will be an invisible new moon starting Tuesday night. That’s one less source of light in the sky to wash out all those Perseids.
The popularity of the shower is a combination of the fact that it’s one of the strongest, with up to 100 visible meteors per hour on average, and it’s coinciding with warm summer nights in the northern hemisphere.
2020 Perseid meteor shower photos shine bright in a dark year
In general, a good strategy is to head out to look for the Perseids as late in the evening as possible, but it’s worth seeing whatever you can whenever you can.
This shower at half-peak with totally dark skies could be about the same as full peak with a bright moon, so don’t think you’ve already missed it if you didn’t catch the peak.
Once you’ve decided on the perfect time and a place with minimal light interference and a wide view of the sky, just lie back, let your eyes adjust and relax. Pillows, blankets, lounge chairs and refreshments make for the ideal experience. It can take about 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, so be sure to be patient. If you follow all my advice, you’re all but guaranteed to see a meteor.
It doesn’t really matter where in the sky you look, so long as you have a broad view. That said, the Perseids will appear to radiate out from the constellation of Perseus, the Hero. If you want to practice to be an advanced meteor spotter, locate Perseus and try focusing there while you watch. Then try just looking up without focusing anywhere. See if you notice a difference. We’re still dealing with the unpredictability of nature, so results will vary.
Arguably the best part of the Perseids each year are the gorgeous photos we get from talented astrophotographers spending long nights outside.
As always, if you capture any beauties yourself, please share them with me on Twitter or Instagram @EricCMack.