Perseid meteor shower
Credit: Jared Tennant via Wikimedia Commons/ Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

One of the Most Visible Meteor Showers of the Year

Various meteor showers appear in the night skies throughout the year during most months of the year. Some showers, also often referred to as "shooting stars", are more prominent than others, and the level of visibility may vary from appearance to appearance depending upon weather conditions and/or the moon's cycle in any given year.

The Perseid meteor shower is a celestial display that makes its annual appearance each summer.  It is often considered to be one of the best meteor shower showings of the year due to its large spans of light that shoot across the night skies.

What You Should Know About the Perseid Meteor Showers

The Perseid meteor showers arrive in August with consistency each year. This usually occurs around the second week of the month. Originating from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, the showers are so prominently displayed in August because this is the time the Swift-Tuttle comet passes at a point closest to the Earth, leaving behind a stream of brightly-lit comet debris; this is what stargazers are actually seeing when they view meteor showers. Once this debris enters Earth's atmosphere, it is then referred to as a meteor. Its name originates from the fact the meteors appear to fall from a location within the constellation Perseus.

Perseid radiant positions
Credit: Puchatech K. via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

Photo's description listed on Wikimedia Commons says: "Perseids (PER) meteor shower; radiant movement. This map was created using HNSKY (Hallo northern sky) software by Han Kleijn."

Fun Facts About Comet Swift-Tuttle

As indicated, Comet Swift-Tuttle is responsible for the spectacular celestial show Perseids gives us each summer. It is a comet that was discovered more than 150 years ago and has a nucleus about six miles (9.7 kilometers) wide. This comet moves very fast and generates a lot of heat.

While fast-moving, it also has a long and distant path around the Sun, making its appearance on rare occasions. While its meteors are seen annually, the comet itself is not. The last time Comet Swift-Tuttle was observed was in 1992. Its next comeback is expected to occur during the year 2126.

For a time it was believed Comet Swift-Tuttle would collide with the Earth at some time in the future, but after discovering some ancient sightings, the calculations were revised and experts now believe it will just be a closer view. However, while its "modern" discovery is said to have occurred in 1862, the comet is also said to have been traced back approximately 2,000 years. Additional research has led experts to believe the comet was initially observed in 188 AD and possibly even as far back as 69 BC.

Optimal Viewing Time for Perseids

The Perseids shower is fast and its debris are said to be pretty speedy. They travel at approximately 133,200 miles per hour (60 kilometers per second). Additionally, this meteor shower is known to shoot 50 to 100 meteors an hour at peak times, which is one of the things that make it so spectacular. Its optimal viewing time is often noted to be in the early predawn hours. As StarDate notes, the Perseus constellation rises in the northeast approximately 11 p.m. during Perseids' annual visit, so later on as the night hours tick away, it is probable a better view can be gotten. For 2015, Perseids is expected to peak the night of Aug. 12.

"Perseid meteors will appear to "rain" into the atmosphere from the constellation Perseus, which rises in the northeast around 11 p.m. in mid-August," according to StarDate. [3]

Update for 2016: This year's peak is expected to offer great views. said one expert described it as being in "outburst". This year Perseids is anticipated to potentially show off 150 to 200 shoots per hour instead of the normal 80 per hour. [4]

Stargazers can use binoculars or a telescope to view Perseids if they choose, but if you don't, you will usually have no trouble observing with the naked eye to spot these meteors. Just be sure you choose a darkened location. These August showers are typically so bright, when weather permits, the best views can likely be gotten by spreading out a blanket where the night skies are not obstructed by city lights and other distracting objects. All you need to do is lie down on your blanket and look up.

If you want to read charts or look at other information while watching the skies, bring a flashlight with a red bulb. If you don't have one, just take a rubber band and make your filter using a small piece of red cellophane, that will do the trick to minimize light and still allow you to be able to read. Additionally, using a regular flashlight will affect your focus and impact your ability to readjust to the dark again once you flip the light off, so you'll definitely want to use the red light. I went on a stargazing trip last May and found the cellophane trick to be very helpful.

Credit: Ras67 via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

To view Perseids, you don't need any special equipment. Experts say the naked eye will do just fine.

Perseids is a shower that arrives each year with high levels of reliability. If you missed the show last year, keep an eye this one.  If you catch it, chances are you'll see some of the prettiest celestial fireworks that will arrive during the year.


Related reading you may be interested in: Annual Meteor Showers by LittleTwoTwo

Below is footage posted on YouTube which was taken from a viewing point in the Eastern Sierra region of California.

Jeff Sullivan (photographer) posts a description with his video: "Timelapse footage of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower in August. The slow, horizontal lights are airplanes. The brief, vertical streaks are the meteors. Many are faint so you'll only see most of them if you follow the instructions above and view this in 720p HD and expand the video full screen. This footage is all from the Perseid Meteor shower in 2009."