The Perseid Meteor Shower has Arrived

The Annual Perseid Meteor Shower

Each August, the Earth passes through a stream of comet debris from Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.  The comet will not be back our way until 2126… so… I wouldn’t wait up for that one.  Along the orbital path, the comet has left behind small bits and pieces, most no bigger than a grain of sand. These run into our planet’s atmosphere and burn up due to friction. The result of this friction-filled reentry is a meteor, a rapid streak of light through the sky.  This shower usually gives us about 60 meteors per hour at peak, and many fireballs: bright meteors that can even be bright enough to cast a shadow.  How to see it?

  • Pick a clear night closest to the peak, which is on August 11th/12th/13th.
  • Go to a dark sky site: avoid lights and cities. The darker, the better.
  • Bring something comfortable to lie down on: sleeping bags are good.
  • Bring food, drink, and bug spray if needed for your location.
  • Spend the night time hours looking up at the sky! No optics required other than your eyeballs.
  • Avoid lights!  No cell phones. No flashlights. Your eyes take between 30-60 minutes to become dark adapted, and you lose that dark adaptation instantly if you see a light. Avoid lights!
  • The shower appears to come from a spot in the sky in the constellation Perseus. This rises just before midnight, so best observing will be after that, into the morning hours.
  • Have fun!

The Orionid Meteor Shower 2018

A good meteor shower to watch is the annual Orionids. This one originates from the famous comet:  1P/Halley – yep, that one!  As the comet orbits the Sun, little particles are left behind all over the place along the path.  When our planet orbits through this debris, we see a meteor shower. This year, the peak night will be October 21-22, 2018… some time around 2:00am will be when the shower radiant is high in the sky. All you need is a good dark sky to view from. No optical gear is needed. Suggestions for those nearing winter:  A sleeping bag, hot drinks, and some snacks. The image below shows that evening at about 1:30am local time with Orion rising in the southeast. The small red circle is the radiant from which the Orionid meteors will seem to emanate.

orionid radiant

The sky as it will appear in the early hours of the morning looking southeast. The Orionid radiant: red circle.

Time for Meteors!

The Earth is headed through two meteor streams at this time, both pretty abundant in meteor activity, or just sheer quantities of meteoric dust. Peaking on August 12-13, the Perseid shower is one of the best known. The shower comes from the debris from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. It has many bright meteors and plenty of fireballs. It has often reached numbers over 100+ per hour and is well worth staying up for. Like most meteor showers, we see more meteors when the observer is on the side of the planet that is facing into the stream. This is when we are facing the morning side of night…. i.e. after midnight. So, bug spray, warm drinks, and a sleeping bag are the tools of choice. No need for an observatory. No need for binoculars. No need for lighting. Get away from the town and city scene. Get into the dark country skies, lie down, look up!

If that were not enough, the second shower (remember there are two) is the Southern Delta Aquarid which \gives us some 10-20 meteors per hour. It is a good season for meteors!