Top of post: Colorful Perseid meteor in 2013 via Gary P. Caton. The star cluster on the right is the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters.
Although the forecast called for the 2013 Perseid meteor shower to produce the most meteors in the dark hours before dawn this morning (August 12, 2013), the meteor output might be comparable, or nearly so, before dawn on Tuesday, August 13.
How have the rates been this year? We heard many reports of several dozen meteors per hour and some reports of about 50-60 meteors per hour. That’s about standard for the Perseids, about one meteor per minute, and a fabulous display if you ever get a chance to view such a thing in a dark, country sky. You can track Perseid meteor rates for 2013 here.
Predicting the intensity and exact peak of a meteor shower is a tricky business, and meteor showers are notorious for defying hard-and-fast forecasts. At mid-northern latitudes, you should see at least a sprinkling of meteors in the mid to late evening hours tonight (August 12), though the best viewing window – from anywhere worldwide – is from about 2 a.m. until dawn on August 13. Before the meteors fly around mid to late evening, be sure to note the picturesque pairing of the waxing crescent moon with the planet Saturn in the southwestern sky at dusk and early evening.
At their peak, the Perseids commonly produce 50 or more meteors per hour at mid-northern latitudes, but, according to the International Meteor Organization, last year’s Perseid shower produced as many as 90 per hour or more. The Perseids are also visible from the tropics and the subtropical regions of the Southern Hemisphere, but appreciably south of the equator, the number of Perseid meteors are fewer and farther between. That’s because the constellation Perseus – the radiant of the Perseid shower – climbs higher in the Northern Hemisphere sky. For everyone worldwide, the radiant is highest in the sky at or near dawn. That’s why the dark hours just before dawn usually produce the greatest number of Perseid meteors.
Where’s the radiant point for the Perseids?
You don’t have to find the constellation Perseus – or radiant point for the shower – to watch the Perseids. Simply find a dark, open sky away from the glare of city lights, lie down comfortably and enjoy the show. The meteors streak across any number of constellations in the lore-laden heavens. But if you trace the paths of the Perseid meteors backward, they seem to radiate the constellation Perseus, near the famous Double Cluster. Once again, you don’t need to locate the radiant to watch the shower.
After you see the Perseid meteors late night August 11 or early morning August 12, remember also to look for the planets Jupiter and Mars in the predawn sky. Then try your luck catching the planet Mercury low in the sky at morning dawn. You may need binoculars to see Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet.
Bottom line: Over all, 2013 has been a favorable year for the Perseid meteor shower! Will you see more meteors before dawn on August 13? Maybe. The only way to know for sure is to look outside.