Don’t forget about the Perseid meteor shower

The astronomically growing hullabaloo about this month’s total solar eclipse is threatening to outshine one of our coolest annual celestial events: the Perseid meteor shower. The shower has actually been going on for a couple of weeks now, but will reach its peak this weekend. The best viewing of the shower is expected late Friday evening, August 11 through the wee hours of Saturday morning, and again on Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

Perseids

Image: NASA

The Perseids are so named because they seem to originate from the constellation Perseus. The meteors are specks of material left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle that burn up as they hit Earth’s atmosphere.

There’s good news and bad news about this year’s Perseids. The good is that it looks like we’ll be going through a particularly dense part of the comet’s debris tail, so we could get more meteors than usual. The bad news is that the waning gibbous Moon will be casting its bright light in the early morning hours, washing out some of the fainter meteors. But even with a bright Moon out, the most robust of the meteors can be spotted, even from city skies.

I’m often asked where to go to see the Perseids. In answer to that, I’ve created a Stargazing Sites page on Seattle Astronomy. The page features maps of stargazing spots in Seattle and around the Northwest. This has been up in “soft launch” mode for a while now, so this is our first public call-out. Check the maps for a site near you, and please feel free to ping me with your own favorites.

The short story for Perseid watching: get as far away from city lights as possible. I first saw them when I was about 12 years old and on a backpacking trip in the dark wilderness near Holden, west of Lake Chelan. The show in pitch-black skies was spectacular. I didn’t know there was such a thing as the Perseids; it was just luck being in the right place at the right time. If you have to stay in the city, find a spot away from street lights for the best prospects.

This article from EarthSky has some useful tips for viewing the Perseids. Good luck!

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