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Perseid meteors peak August 12-13, plus Venus and Jupiter

The Perseid meteors are named for the constellation Perseus the Hero. If you trace the paths of the meteors backwards, they seem to radiate from this constellation.

Tonight for August 12, 2014

The 2014 Perseid meteor shower should be at its best from late night August 12 until dawn August 13! Great times to watch: after midnight and before dawn. Keep in mind that a waning supermoon will dramatically diminish the number of meteors you’ll see in 2014. On a dark, moonless night, you can often see 50-100 Perseid meteors per hour. Not so this year. The good news is that the Perseids have more fireballs, or bright meteors, than any other major shower, according to NASA’s Meteoroid Office. The expert skywatchers at SkyandTelescope.com said a few days ago to expect a Perseid fireball – bright enough to compete with the bright moonlight – about every 5 minutes. And what a beautiful sight that will be, a meteor streaking along in a moon-washed sky. What’s more, if you’re up before dawn, you have a real treat waiting for you … the sky’s two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, together in the east. Click here for more about Venus and Jupiter.

Meanwhile, do plan to go to a country location to enjoy the bright moon and Perseids, if you can. The Perseids are a summertime classic. They’re a 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 in bright moonlight.

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Will you see meteors in the annual Perseid meteor shower in the light of the bright supermoon?  You might.  The Perseids have more fireballs - or very bright meteors - than any other shower.  This chart is from NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.

Will you see meteors in the annual Perseid meteor shower in the light of the bright waning supermoon? You might. The Perseids have more fireballs – or very bright meteors – than any other shower. This chart is from NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.

James Younger in Saanichton, British Columbia, Canada caught this Perseid meteor on August 9, 2014.

James Younger in Saanichton, British Columbia, Canada caught this Perseid meteor on August 9, 2014.

The Perseid meteors are even visible in the Southern Hemisphere, although the numbers are not as high. Photo credit: ESO/S. Guisard

Some Perseid meteors will be visible in the Southern Hemisphere, although the numbers will not be as high. Photo via the European Southern Observatory/S. Guisard

The nice video above is from the Sociedad de Astronomía del Caribe (Astronomical Society of the Caribbean).

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. 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. 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.

At temperate latitudes in 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 36AD, 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 planets Venus and Jupiter adorn the dawn sky in August 2014.  Although the sky chart is for Thursday, August 14, the planets will look similar on Wednesday, August 13. Read more

The planets Venus and Jupiter adorn the dawn sky in August 2014. Although the sky chart is for Thursday, August 14, the planets will look similar on Wednesday, August 13. Read more

As darkness begins to give way to dawn, be sure to view the the sky’s two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter. These two are both back in the predawn sky now. Look east. On August 18, Venus and Jupiter will stage the closest conjunction of any two planets this year. Read more: August 2014 guide to the five visible planets

Bottom line: The best viewing hours for the 2014 Perseid meteors will probably be from about 2 a.m. until dawn on August 13. If you’re out before dawn, look east for the planets Venus and Jupiter – brightest objects in the sky besides the sun and moon.

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2014

How to find the radiant point for Perseid metors

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