How to Watch the Highly Anticipated Perseid Meteor Shower

This weekend, sky conditions will be almost perfect to catch a glimpse of shooting stars during one of the year’s best celestial shows

a meteor streak amid stars in a dark sky over evergreen trees and orange light at the horizon
A meteor streaks across the sky during the 2016 Perseid meteor shower in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. NASA / Bill Ingalls

Widely considered one of the best celestial events of the year, the Perseid meteor shower is lighting up skies in the Northern Hemisphere and building to its spectacular peak this weekend.

The Perseids are known to treat viewers to a fantastic display, and coupled with a particularly dark sky, this year’s show is shaping up to be one you won’t want to miss.

“If you’re going to watch any meteor shower this year… that’s the one to see,” NASA astronomer Bill Cooke, head of the agency’s Meteoroid Environment Office, tells Insider’s Marianne Guenot.

On the peak night in North America, from August 12 to 13, the Perseids could produce up to 100 meteors per hour in prime conditions, according to NASA. Though the Perseids have been active since July 14—and will remain visible until September 1—the peak will yield the highest rate of meteor activity.

Where the meteors come from

When a piece of a comet or asteroid crashes into Earth’s atmosphere, it’s traveling fast. The Perseid meteors, for example, streak across the sky at 37 miles per second, or about 133,000 miles per hour. The friction between these fast-moving objects and the atoms and molecules in Earth’s atmosphere causes them to heat up and burn, appearing as breathtaking streaks of light to observers on the ground.

During a meteor shower such as the Perseids, Earth passes through a large cloud of debris in space. Right now, the planet is moving amid the rocks and ice left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which last was seen from Earth in 1992. The 16-mile-long comet orbits the sun over a 133-year period, which means it won’t be seen again until 2125. But every August, its remains create the radiant Perseid meteor shower.

Each of the Perseid meteors is small—they might be just tiny grains, or the size of a pea or a pebble. Still, they create a fantastic glow, and the shower is known for its extra-bright fireballs, which are caused by slightly larger pieces of debris.

Peak of the Perseids meteorshower 2021

Tips for viewing the Perseid shower

Around 4 a.m. Eastern time on August 13, the Earth will pass through the densest part of the comet Swift-Tuttle’s cloud of remains, reports’s Joe Rao. But throughout the whole night, meteor activity will be elevated, and viewing conditions this year will be nearly perfect.

In 2022, the Perseid shower peak coincided with a full moon, presenting hopeful viewers with the “worst possible circumstances,” as Cooke told NASA last August.

But this time around, the moon will be only about 10 percent illuminated, contributing just a dim glare. As long as you can find a cloudless, dark sky away from the artificial glow of city lights and street lamps, the meteors should appear very clearly.

Pack a blanket and perhaps some bug spray, and lie on your back with your feet pointing roughly toward the northeast. Be patient—it could take about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark—and resist the urge to look at your phone, as its light will mess up your night vision.

How to find the meteors

Perseid meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Perseus, which is how the shower gets its name. This group of stars depicting the hero from Greek mythology lies in the northern sky, near the distinctive “W” shape of Cassiopeia.

The shower’s “shooting stars” will be visible across a wide swath of the sky, however, and identifying the point where the meteors appear to originate, known as the radiant, only serves to tell you which shower you’re viewing. If you spot a fast-moving meteor that’s traveling away from the northeast, chances are, you’ve got a Perseid.

several streaks of green and white emanate from a sky region in the upper left of the image
A time lapse of Perseid shower meteors from 2009. The meteors emanate from the radiant near the Perseus constellation. NASA / JPL

Upcoming meteor showers

With the July peak of the Delta Aquariid meteor shower in the rearview, the Perseids are simply the next in a long line of spectacles likely to delight viewers for the rest of the year.

By mid-autumn, Northern Hemisphere sky-watchers will be treated to at least one major meteor shower per month. In October, the fast-moving Orionids will appear to fly from the celestial hunter Orion, and in November, the Leonid shower promises good viewing conditions. One of the best showers of the year, the Geminids, will light up skies in December, for any serious meteor spectators who choose to watch in the cold.

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