Tonight – August 13, 2015 – we’re slightly past the peak of this year’s Perseid meteor shower. But don’t let that stop you from watching the shower in the hours between midnight and dawn Friday. From late night until dawn on August 14, you should still see plenty of meteors in this famous shower. As viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, the Perseids can produce some 50 to 100 meteors per hour at their peak.
Will you see that many tonight? Only way to find out is to look. Find a dark sky away from pesky artificial lights, and lie down comfortably on a reclining lawn chair.
People always ask which direction they should watch to see a meteor shower. The answer is that any direction will do. It’s true that the Perseid meteors appear to radiate from a single point in the sky. But you don’t need to look toward this radiant point to see the meteors. Instead, the meteors will appear in all parts of a dark night sky, especially between midnight and dawn.
That’s the constellation Perseus the Hero at the top of this post. It’s the reason this meteor shower is best between the hours of midnight and dawn. One way to think about it is this. The shower’s radiant point – the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to radiate – needs to be above your horizon before you can see meteors. At this time of year, the constellation Perseus ascends appreciably high in the northeast by about midnight and highest in the sky before dawn. That’s why you’ll see more meteors after midnight than before.
Still, it’s fun to find the radiant. If – just for fun – you do want to spot Perseus, look first for the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia. The constellation Perseus is faint, but Cassiopeia is noticeable and can help you find it. As viewed from Northern Hemisphere locations, Perseus and Cassiopeia are in the northeast after midnight. Cassiopeia is above Perseus in the northeast.
If you do see a Perseid meteor, and trace the path of a Perseid meteor backward, you will find that it radiated from a point in the sky within the boundaries of the constellation Perseus.
Appreciably south of the equator, your meteor count will be less – perhaps only 10 to 15 meteors per hour. Also, at southerly latitudes, the first Perseids probably won’t appear until midnight or the wee hours of the morning. That’s because the constellation Perseus – the radiant point for the Perseid meteors – is a far northern constellation. Perseus rises earlier in the evening and climbs higher in the sky at northerly latitudes.
Bottom line: The peak of the 2015 Perseid meteor shower was likely the morning of August 13. But the morning of August 14 might feature a good display of Perseid meteors as well. Be sure to look for them in a dark country sky.