Astronomy Essentials

Perseid meteor shower: All you need to know in 2022

Perseid meteor shower: Diagram of Earth with arrows pointing to it from sun, moon, and meteor shower direction.
This chart shows the predicted peak of the Perseid meteor shower at 3:00 UTC (11 p.m. ET). In this image from Guy Ottewell, the shower radiant is over northern Europe in full daylight at peak meteor fall. While North America will be ideally situated, the moon will be 97% full and rises at around 9:30 p.m. local time.

The Perseids always peak around August 11, 12 and 13. But – in 2022 – moonlight will interfere with Perseids’ peak. Try our article on meteors in moonlight: 6 tips for watching 2022’s Perseids.

Early to mid-August meteors … the Perseids

Predicted peak: August 13, 2022, at 3 UTC. In most years, we’d be advising you to watch the Perseids’ peak on the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13. But …
When to watch: Unfortunately, the moon will be up all night during the predicted* peak of 2022’s Perseid meteor shower. However, note that this shower tends to rise to a peak gradually, and then fall off rapidly after the peak. That means you can watch for Perseid meteors in the week or 10 days before the peak. You won’t see as many meteor as you would in a dark, moon-free sky at the peak. But, in 2022, we don’t have a moon-free sky at the peak. Also note that the Perseids strengthen in number as late night deepens into the wee hours of the morning. The shower is often best before dawn. So, in 2022, we recommend you start watching in early August, from late evening to dawn. Watch on multiple mornings, until the waxing moon – brighter each night, and up for more hours – drives you back inside.
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: Full moon falls at 1:36 UTC on August 12. So there will be a bright moon up during the Perseids’ peak in 2022. Take advantage of the moon-free mornings in early August for watching the Perseids (and the 2022 Delta Aquariids).
Expected meteors at peak, under ideal conditions: Under a dark sky with no moon, skywatchers frequently report 90 meteors or more per hour. It’s doubtful we’ll see that many in 2022, because of the moon.
Note: The August Perseid meteor shower is rich and steady, from early August through the peak. The 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, but moonlight will outshine dim meteors all night in 2022. 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.

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.

Tonight, the comet is about 35 degrees south of the sun, and 42 times farther away than the sun. It is not visible in any telescope but will be visible in all telescopes, binoculars and to the unaided eye when it returns in the year 2126.

Diagram of Earth's orbit with part of long vertical orbit intersecting it.
The Perseids happen every year. Their parent comet – Swift-Tuttle – takes about 130 years to orbit the sun once. It last rounded the sun in the early 1990s and is now far away. But we see the Perseids each year, when Earth intersects the comet’s orbit, and debris left behind by Swift-Tuttle enters our atmosphere. Chart via Guy Ottewell.

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.

Night sky above an orange horizon, with constellation Perseus, stars, and Pleiades labeled.
From mid-northern latitudes, the constellation Perseus, the stars Capella and Aldebaran, and the Pleiades cluster light up the northeast sky in the wee hours after midnight on August nights. The meteors radiate from Perseus. Image via Till Credner/ AlltheSky.com.
Starry field with outlined constellation Cassiopeia and an arrow pointing to 2 small smudges.
Here’s a cool binocular object to look for while you’re watching the meteors. The constellation Cassiopeia points out the famous Double Cluster in the northern tip of the constellation Perseus. Plus, the Double Cluster nearly marks the radiant of the Perseid meteor shower. Image via Flickr/ Mike Durkin.

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 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 2022 Perseid meteor shower should produce the most meteors in the predawn hours of August 11, 12 and 13, but many faint meteors will be outshone by an almost full moon. Here’s how to get the most from this year’s shower.

*Predicted peak times and dates for 2022 meteor showers are from the American Meteor Society. Note that meteor shower peak times can vary.

EarthSky’s 2022 meteor shower guide

Everything you need to know: Delta Aquariid meteor shower

Posted 
August 6, 2022
 in 
Astronomy Essentials

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