The Perseid meteor shower, known to NASA as the “champion among fireballs,” will dazzle stargazers around the world this weekend. With near-perfect conditions, this cosmic spectacle promises to be one of the most spectacular meteor streams of the year. On the night of Saturday, August 12 through Sunday, August 13, the sky will be lit up by up to 100 meteors per hour formed from Perseid meteoroids. The best time to observe is between 10:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. local time.
Bill Cooke, NASA’s meteoroid environment manager, explains that this year’s Perseid meteor shower is characterized by unique circumstances that will make it an unusual spectacle. Unlike last year, when the moon was full, this year’s meteor shower will occur in the waning crescent phase, making it almost completely black. This means that the bright trails of the meteor shower will stand out against the dark sky.
Although the Perseid meteor shower can be observed from anywhere in the world, the two ideal locations recommended by expert astronomers are on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States. However, observers around the world will be able to enjoy this celestial spectacle.
The Perseid meteors are formed from the debris of Comet 109/P Swift-Tuttle, a massive, 16-mile-wide comet that passed in close proximity to Earth in 1992. Each August, Earth’s trajectory around the Sun passes through the remnants left behind by the comet during its 133-year orbit. The next significant appearance of the Swift-Tuttle comet near Earth will occur in 2126.
Compared to other comets that are much smaller, the Swift-Tuttle comet produces a large number of meteoroids, many of which are large enough to form fireballs. This is why the Perseid meteor shower is so exceptional. According to NASA, this year’s meteor stream could be as fast as 100 “shooting stars” per hour when observed from a dark place in the countryside.
For the best experience, it is recommended to find a location away from city lights and other sources of light pollution. While fireballs can be observed from cities, more faint Perseids can only be seen from rural areas.
The Perseids, also known as the “Tears of St. Lawrence,” sweep through Earth’s atmosphere at an astounding 132,000 miles per hour, or about 37 miles per second. This incredible speed causes the meteoroids to ignite into bright streaks of flame due to the friction of the heated air. The Perseids are known for having the highest number of fireballs among all meteor streams.
Despite their fiery appearance, the Perseids pose no threat to observers and all life on Earth. They almost always burn up in the atmosphere before reaching the planet’s surface.
The Royal Astronomical Society of Great Britain emphasizes that meteor streams such as the Perseids are best observed with the naked eye, and no special equipment is required to enjoy their view.