Tonight – the night of August 11-12, 2016 – presents the expected peak of the 2016 Perseid meteor shower. The shower should be at its best from late night August 11 until dawn August 12. Great times to watch: after midnight and before dawn. On a dark, moonless night, you can often see 50-100 Perseid meteors per hour. Plus the Perseids have more fireballs, or bright meteors, than any other major shower, according to NASA’s Meteoroid Office. What a beautiful sight it will be, to see meteors streaking along in a moon-free sky, in front of the age-old constellations.
Although the moon will light up the evening hours, it will set way before the predawn hours, at which time the Perseid meteors fly most abundantly. However, before these prime time viewing hours, why not use the moon to locate the planets Mars and Saturn at nightfall? See the chart below.
Notice the photo at the top of this post. Barry Simmons at Lake Martin, Alabama caught this Perseid meteor in 2013. See the colors? The Perseids are known to be colorful meteors.
If you can, plan to go to a country location to enjoy the Perseids, a summertime classic. They’re a particular favorite for Northern Hemisphere viewers, though this shower can also be watched from tropical and subtropical latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere as well.
Find a dark, open sky far away from the harsh glare of city lights, lie down comfortably on a reclining lawn chair and enjoy the show.
You don’t need to know the constellations. You don’t need special equipment. Simply look up to watch Perseid meteors streaking the nighttime sky. Just remember, as seen from around the world, the most meteors will fall in the wee hours before dawn. Click here for tips on watching this year’s Perseid shower.
From the Northern Hemisphere, you can see a smattering of Perseid meteors in the evening hours. The meteors tend to be few and far between at mid-evening, though this presents the best time of night to try to catch an earthgrazer – an elongated, long-lasting meteor that travels horizontally across the sky. Earthgrazers are rare but most memorable if you’re lucky enough to spot one.
What if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere? From the Southern Hemisphere, the first meteors – and possible earthgrazers – won’t be flying until midnight or the wee hours of the morning.
In either the Northern or the Southern Hemisphere, the greatest number of meteors streak the sky in the few hours before dawn.
The paths of the Perseid meteors, when traced backward, appear to originate from the constellation Perseus. Hence, this meteor shower’s name.
However, you don’t have to know the constellation Perseus to watch the Perseid meteor shower, for the Perseids fly every which way across the starry heavens.
As viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, the radiant sits low in the northeast sky at evening and climbs upward throughout the night. The higher that the radiant is in your sky, the more Perseid meteors you’re likely to see.
As viewed from the Southern Hemisphere, the radiant of the Perseid meteor shower never gets very high in the sky. Therefore, the number of Perseid meteors seen from this part of the world isn’t as great as at more northerly latitudes. But if you’re game, look northward in the wee hours before dawn and you may still see a sprinkling of Perseids.
The earliest historical account of Perseid activity comes from a Chinese record in 36 AD, where it was said that “more than 100 meteors flew in the morning.” Numerous references to the August Perseids appear in Chinese, Japanese and Korean records throughout the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. Meanwhile, according to ancient western skylore, the Perseid shower commemorates the time when the god Zeus visited the mortal maiden Danae in the form of a shower of gold. Zeus and Danae became the parents of Perseus the Hero – from whose constellation the Perseid meteors radiate.
The Perseid meteors happen around this time every year, as Earth in its orbit crosses the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle. Dusty debris left behind by this comet smashes into Earth’s upper atmosphere, lighting up the nighttime as fiery Perseid meteors. The meteors start out slowly in the evening hours, begin to pick up steam after midnight and put out the greatest numbers in the dark hours before dawn.
The nice video above is also from 2014’s shower, from the Sociedad de Astronomía del Caribe (Astronomical Society of the Caribbean).
Bottom line: The mornings around August 12 should be good as well, but we give the nod to this morning as the best time to watch 2016’s Perseid meteor shower.