(Photo courtesy of Michael Fagan)
The most dazzling of our annual meteor showers is happening right now, but you'll have to wait just a little longer for the Perseids to reach their peak.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs each year from mid-July to late August, but it hits its peak in mid-August, according to NASA. The best times for viewing the Perseids this year will be in the early morning hours just before dawn on August 12 and 13.
For optimum viewing opportunities, look up to the sky while facing eastward, NASA advises. The meteors from the Perseids appear to radiate from that direction, from left of the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Perseus. However, you can see the shooting stars from anywhere in the sky.
As many as 100 meteors shoot through the sky each hour during the meteor shower. However, this year, the Perseids may be a little more lackluster than usual because of a nearly full moon during the peak period. The light from the bright moon means not as many shooting stars will be visible, according to EarthSky.
The Perseids is the best of the many meteor showers that occur annually because its meteors are very fast and very bright, creating stunning displays in the night sky, NASA reports. Even with a nearly full moon, many meteors an hour can be visible in locations where light pollution does not make sky watching difficult.
You don't need a telescope or any special equipment to see the Perseids. For optimum viewing, find a place with a dark, open sky. Give yourself at least a half-hour, since there can be long lulls between meteors, EarthSky advises. It also takes your eyes as long as 20 minutes to fully adjust to the darkness.
Meteor showers are the result of Earth passing in the path of debris from a comet. The Perseid 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 meteor shower.
If you want to get a jump on your sky watching before the Perseids reach their peak, two other meteor showers are also active now. The Alpha Capricornids will be occurring until August 15, and the Delta Aquariids meteor show lasts until August 23, according to the American Meteor Society. Neither are in their peak, but you may still see some meteors from any of these meteor showers streaking through the night sky.
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