Astronomy Essentials

Perseid meteor shower: All you need to know in 2023

Earth's globe with lines pointing towards the moon, sun and meteors overhead.
View larger. | The 2023 Perseid meteor shower, seen in earth mode (above the earth’s surface, looking down). The moon will be a waning crescent in the morning sky on the peak days of August 11, 12 and 13. Luckily, the moon won’t be very bright while watching the meteor shower. Image via Guy Ottewell. Used with permission.

The Perseid meteor shower always peak around August 11, 12 and 13. In 2023, they peak right before a new moon.

Early to mid-August meteors … the Perseids

Predicted peak: is predicted** for August 13, 2023, at 7:58 UTC.
When to watch: The moon will be a waning crescent and 10% illuminated during 2023’s peak of the Perseid meteor shower. This shower rises to a peak gradually, then falls off rapidly. And Perseid meteors tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into the wee hours. The shower is often best before dawn. In 2023, the moon will be in the morning sky from early to mid-August but growing fainter each day before the peak.
Duration of shower: July 14 to September 1.
Radiant: The radiant rises in the middle of the night and is highest at dawn. See chart below.
Nearest moon phase: New moon falls at 9:38 UTC on August 16. There will be a waning crescent moon up during the Perseid’s peak in 2023. But the thin crescent moon will not be too bright. And you might even enjoy the waning crescent moon as you watch for the Perseids in 2023. (and the Delta Aquariids).
Expected meteors at peak, under ideal conditions: Under a dark sky with no moon, skywatchers frequently report 90 meteors per hour, or more. In 2023, the waning crescent moon will not interfere with the meteor shower.
Note: The August Perseid meteor shower is rich and steady, from early August through the peak. Plus, the Perseid meteors are colorful. And they frequently leave persistent trains. All of these factors make the Perseid shower perhaps the most beloved meteor shower for the Northern Hemisphere.

Report a fireball (very bright meteor) to the American Meteor Society: it’s fun and easy!

Dark sky with circle of arrows pointing out Perseid radiant between outlines of Cassiopeia and Perseus.
The annual Perseid meteor shower radiant rises late in the evening, around 11 p.m. local time, nearly due northeast in the constellation Perseus. Perseids are best viewed from midnight to sunrise and in 2023 the waning crescent moon will not washout any meteors. The greatest number of meteors will be visible after the radiant rises, but the shooting stars themselves can appear anywhere in the sky, seeming to trail from the radiant point.

Perseid meteor shower radiant point

Around the peak mornings, if you trace all the Perseid meteors backward, they seem to come from the constellation Perseus, near the famous Double Cluster. Hence, the meteor shower is named in honor of the constellation Perseus the Hero.

Of course, there’s no real connection between the meteor shower radiant and the constellation Perseus. The stars in Perseus are many light-years distant, while these meteors burn up about 60 miles (100 km) above the Earth’s surface.

Sky chart with radial lines near the constellation Perseus.
The radiant point for the 2023 Perseid meteor shower, seen in sky mode (from the the earth’s surface, looking up). Image via Guy Ottewell. Used with permission.

The Perseids’ parent comet

From the late, great Don Machholz (1952-2022), who discovered 12 comets …

The parent comet responsible for the Perseid meteor shower is a rather large comet called 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The comet orbits the sun approximately every 133 years. Lewis Swift of Marathon, New York, visually discovered it on July 16, 1862, using an 11-centimeter (3.5-inch refractor lens) telescope. He did not report it immediately, believing that he was observing Comet Schmidt, which was found two weeks prior. Then, three days later, Horace Tuttle picked it up from Harvard Observatory. Scientists calculated that the comet would return in 120 years. That is, that we would see it again in 1982.

So, 1982 came and went. And the comet didn’t show up. Oops! It was back to the drawing board, and this time, the appearance of a comet observed in 1737 was considered a possible early appearance of the comet. Now, the orbital period was more like 130 years. Brian Marsden published new orbital elements and an ephemeris as to where to find it, for its 1992 return.

In the 1980s, many of us visual comet hunters would, from time to time, cover the part of the sky where the incoming comet was supposed to appear. The 1991 outburst of Perseid meteors indicated that the comet was probably on its way back. Another meteor outburst in 1992 seemed to confirm that.

On September 26, 1992, Tsuruhiko Kiuchi, an amateur astronomer and comet hunter, picked up the comet in the evening sky, just north of the bowl of the Big Dipper. Knowing where to look, I observed this comet 16 hours later and made a brightness estimate five times brighter than the original report. Others then confirmed this. Later, Gary Kronk suggested that the comets observed in 69 CE and 188 BCE were also appearances of this comet, a theory later confirmed.

Do Perseid meteors ever hit the ground?

Meteors that hit the ground intact are called meteorites. But few – if any – meteors in annual showers become meteorites. That’s primarily because of the flimsy nature of cometary debris. Comets are made of ices. Most meteorites, on the other hand, are the remains of rocky or metallic asteroids.

In ancient Greek star lore, Perseus is the son of the god Zeus and the mortal Danaë. It was said that the Perseid shower commemorates the time when Zeus visited Danaë, the mother of Perseus, in a shower of gold.

So think of the ephemeral nature of meteors in meteor showers, as you stand outside watching for Perseids in 2022. Most meteors strike Earth’s atmosphere unseen. You can consider any Perseid meteor you do see in 2022 as there for your viewing pleasure!

By the way, 2021 was a fantastic year for the Perseids: Perseid photos 2021: A week of shooting stars

A few Perseid meteor shower photos from EarthSky’s community

Bright streak of light behind broken clouds lit up by fireball.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Joel Coombs in Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada, captured this photo of a fireball on August 12, 2021. He wrote: “2 Perseids in 1 shot and 1 is a fireball. Went up to Upper Pahranagat Lake in hopes of getting a couple shots of the Perseids. With thunderstorms building all day, I wasn’t very hopeful. Clouds were rolling through all night, but there were clearings here and there. Just as the clouds were coming back I got to see this.” Thank you, Joel!
Panoramic view of the night sky with the Milky Way and a long, thin glowing white streak.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Peter Ryan in Point Judith, Rhode Island, captured this photo of a Perseid with the Milky Way on August 13, 2021, and wrote: “A single Perseid meteor alongside the Milky Way.” Thank you, Peter!
A few clouds and a thin, very bright meteor streaking across center of starry sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Joel Weatherly in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, captured this photo of a meteor on August 12, 2021. He wrote: “Here’s a photo of a bright Perseid meteor I caught streaking across the sky last night. This meteor sported a brilliant green hue and even left a faint persistent train.” Thank you, Joel!
Bright streak of light with two glowing bulges in sky above mountains.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Garth Battista of Halcottsville, New York, took this photo of a Perseid meteor over the Catskill Mountains on August 13, 2020.
Dark horizon and night sky with multiple bright streaks diagonally right to left.
This image is a composite of 12 images acquired on August 13, 2017, by Felix Zai in Toronto. He wrote: “Perseid meteor shower gave a good show even though the moonlight drowned out most of the fainter ones. A huge fireball was captured in this photo.” Thanks, Felix! By the way, it’s only in a meteor “storm” that you’d see this many meteors at once. Even in a rich shower, you typically see only 1 or 2 meteors at a time.

Video from the 2022 Perseids

Enjoy this video of the 2022 Perseid meteor shower from the Caribbean Astronomical Society.

Bottom line: The 2023 Perseid meteor shower should produce the most meteors in the predawn hours of August 11, 12 and 13. And a thin waning crescent moon shouldn’t interfere with seeing the meteors. Here’s how to get the most from this year’s shower.

*Predicted peak times and dates for 2023 meteor showers are from the American Meteor Society. Note that meteor shower peak times can vary.

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2023

Everything you need to know: Delta Aquariid meteor shower

Meteor showers: Tips for watching the show

Posted 
August 6, 2023
 in 
Astronomy Essentials

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