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The Buzz

Get Ready For A Dazzling Display With The Perseids Meteor Shower

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Dozens of meteor showers occur each year, but none is so spectacular here in Illinois as the Perseids meteor shower, which occurs each August. 

The Perseids technically began in mid-July, but its peak activity will be August 12 and 13, according to the American Meteor Society. At its peak, the Perseids can produce as many as 100 meteors per hour.

The Perseids provide the best chance for seeing dazzling shooting stars streak across the night sky because the meteors are very fast and very bright, NASA reports. This year, the moon will be less than half full when the meteor shower is at its peak, meaning the meteors should be easily visible. Even with a nearly full moon, you can usually see the Perseids meteors because they are so bright.

The Perseids — and all meteor showers — are best viewed from a dark, open sky, according to EarthSky. For the best chance of seeing meteors light up the sky, give yourself plenty of time. It will take your eyes about 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness and there can be long lulls in between meteors, so be patient. 

Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through the path of debris from a comet. The Perseids meteor shower occurs because of debris from the Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which Earth passes through each year at this time, creating the shooting stars. Swift-Tuttle takes 133 years to orbit the sun, and it last passed through the inner solar system in 1992, according to NASA. However, the debris it leaves behind in its wake remains, creating the annual meteor shower.

Your best chance of seeing meteors in August comes from the Perseids, but other meteor showers occur each August as well. The southern delta Aquariids meteor shower began in July and will last until August 23, and the alpha Capricornids began in July and will last until August 15.

So how can you tell which meteor shower produced the shooting star you saw? All meteor showers are named for their radiant, the point in the sky from which they appear to radiate from, NASA reports. The radiant for the Perseids is the constellation Perseus. The radiant of the delta Aquariids is the constellation Aquarius, and the alpha Capricornids radius is the constellation Capricornus. If you have a constellation and star guide or a sky-watching app, you will be able to determine what meteor shower produced a shooting star by looking at where it came from and the direction it traveled in the sky. 

Bright night skies from the full moon won't interfere with the Perseids' peak because it will occur earlier in the month, on August 3, according to NASA. The moon will reach its fullest point at 10:59 a.m. August 3, and will look full in the sky that night. 

The August full moon is called the sturgeon moon. Historically, the fishing tribes around the Great Lakes caught the most sturgeon during August, earning the month's full moon this nickname, according to the Farmers' Almanac. Other nicknames for the August full moon include the grain moon, the green corn moon and the full red moon, because the moon sometimes appears reddish in the hazy night sky at this time of year.


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