Perseids Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend

A live broadcast of the meteor shower from a camera in Huntsville, AL (if our weather cooperates!) will be available on NASA TV and the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook starting around 9 p.m. Eastern time (8 p.m. CT) and continuing until the early hours of August 13.

The Perseid meteor shower is here! Perseid meteors, caused by debris left behind by the Comet Swift-Tuttle, began streaking across the skies in late July and will peak on August 12.

The Perseid meteor shower is often considered to be one of the best meteor showers of the year due to its high rates and pleasant late-summer temperatures. This year’s shower peak, however, has the added bonus of dark skies courtesy of an early-setting crescent Moon. Combine these ideal observing conditions and high rates (an average of 60 meteors per hour at the peak) with the fact that the best nights for viewing – August 11 to 12 and August 12 to 13 – occur on a weekend and you have a recipe for successfully viewing some celestial fireworks!

A Perseid meteor over Daytona Beach, FL.
A Perseid meteor over Daytona Beach, FL. Perseids are known for being bright and fast, traveling 132,000 mph. Image Credit: NASA/MEO.

When Should I Look?

Make plans to stay up late or wake up early the nights of August 11 to 12 and August 12 to 13. The Perseids are best seen between about 2 a.m. your local time and dawn.

If those hours seem daunting, not to worry! You can go out after dark, around 9 p.m. local time, and see Perseids. Just know that you won’t see nearly as many as you would had you gone out during the early morning hours.

How can you see the Perseids if the weather doesn’t cooperate where you are? A live broadcast of the meteor shower from a camera in Huntsville, AL (if our weather cooperates!) will be available on the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook starting around 8 p.m. CT and continuing until the early hours of August 13. Meteor videos recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network are also available each morning; to identify Perseids in these videos, look for events labeled “PER.”

Why Are They Called Perseids?

All meteors associated with one particular shower have similar orbits, and they all appear to come from the same place in the sky, called the radiant. Meteor showers take their name from the location of the radiant. The Perseid radiant is in the constellation Perseus. Similarly, the Geminid meteor shower, observed each December, is named for a radiant in the constellation Gemini.

Most of the meteors seen in this composite are Perseids.
Most of the meteors seen in this composite are Perseids. Notice how they all appear to be streaking from the same direction? The Perseids appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus. Image Credit: NASA/MEO.

How to Observe Perseids

If it’s not cloudy, pick an observing spot away from bright lights, lay on your back, and look up! You don’t need any special equipment to view the Perseids – just your eyes.  (Note that telescopes or binoculars are not recommended.) Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky so don’t worry about looking in any particular direction.

While observing this month, not all of the meteors you’ll see belong to the Perseid meteor shower. Some are sporadic background meteors. And some are from other weaker showers also active right now, including the Alpha Capricornids, the Southern Delta Aquariids, and the Kappa Cygnids. How can you tell if you’ve seen a Perseid? If you see a meteor try to trace it backwards. If you end up in the constellation Perseus, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Perseid. If finding constellations isn’t your forte, then note that Perseids are some of the fastest meteors you’ll see!

Pro tip: Remember to let your eyes become adjusted to the dark (it takes about 30 minutes) – you’ll see more meteors that way. Try to stay off of your phone too, as looking at devices with bright screens will negatively affect your night vision and hence reduce the number of meteors you see!

Happy viewing!

The Greatest Meteor Show of All Time

By Bill Cooke

At NASA, we get very excited about many astronomical events — to name just a few, the return of Halley’s Comet back in 1985/86; the impact of the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in 1992; the Leonid meteor storms of 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002; and, of course, the upcoming total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 of this year.

Some of these events get blown a bit out of proportion. A classic example is that every time Mars comes to opposition (closest approach to Earth), the internet reverberates with the very false statement that Mars will appear as large as the Moon at that time. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as Mars, at its very closest to Earth, appears only 1/70th the apparent diameter of the Moon.

This year we have a new one — reports are circulating that this year’s Perseids will be the “brightest shower in recorded human history,” lighting up the night sky and even having some meteors visible during the day. We wish this were true… but no such thing is going to happen.

In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

For one thing, the Perseids never reach storm levels (thousands of meteors per hour). At best, they outburst from a normal rate between 80-100 meteors per hour to a few hundred per hour. The best Perseid performance of which we are aware occurred back in 1993, when the peak Perseid rate topped 300 meteors per hour. Last year also saw an outburst of just over 200 meteors per hour.

This year, we are expecting enhanced rates of about 150 per hour or so, but the increased number will be cancelled out by the bright Moon, the light of which will wash out the fainter Perseids. A meteor every couple of minutes is good, and certainly worth going outside to look, but it is hardly the “brightest shower in human history.” The Leonid meteor storms of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s were much more spectacular, and had rates 10 times greater than the best Perseid display.

So, if not this year’s Perseid shower, what was the greatest meteor show of all time? I think many meteor researchers would give that award to the 1833 Leonids, which had rates of tens of thousands, perhaps even 100,000, meteors per hour. During a good Perseid shower under ideal conditions, you can see about one meteor per minute. Now imagine yourself being back in 1833, on the night of Nov. 12. Looking outside, you would see something like 20 to 30 meteors PER SECOND. No wonder we read accounts like this one from South Carolina (Chambers, A Handbook of Descriptive and Practical Astronomy, Volume 1, 1889):

“Upwards of 100 lay prostrate on the ground…with their hands raised, imploring God to save the world and them. The scene was truly awful; for never did rain fall much thicker than the meteors fell towards the Earth; east, west, north and south, it was the same.”

Now, THAT’s a meteor shower. The 1833 storm had a profound effect on those that witnessed it; it also gave birth to modern meteor science. Those of us who study meteors dream of such a display happening sometime within our lifetimes.

But it won’t be caused by this year’s Perseids.

Cooke leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

 

Perseids Are Already Appearing in the Huntsville Sky

This composite image shows the meteors detected by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station here in Huntsville, Alabama this morning.   The majority of the meteors are Perseids, but a handful belong to the Northern Delta Aquariid, Southern Delta Aquariid, Alpha Capricornid, and Southern Iota Aquariid meteor showers that are also active.

HuntsvilleComposite

This Perseid meteor was observed by the NASA Wide-field Meteor Camera Network in the skies over Huntsville, Alabama on the morning of August 12.

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Perseids Are Already Zipping Across the Sky!

The Perseids are ramping up! Here’s a Perseid meteor captured by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network on August 4th. The shower will peak the morning of August 13th. With a near-new Moon, we may get a good show that morning!

ev_20150804_074245A_02A

NASA Marshall to Host Ustream Event About Perseid Meteor Shower August 12; Experts to Answer Questions Online

Perseid Meteor Shower Banner

Enjoy a summer evening of sky watching as the annual Perseid meteor shower peaks on the night of August 12 through the morning of August 13. Join meteor experts from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center for live Ustream commentary during the shower. Perseid meteor rates can get as high as 100 per hour, with many fireballs visible in the night sky

How to View the Perseid meteor shower

The best opportunity to see the Perseid meteor shower is during the dark, pre-dawn hours of August 13. The Perseidss streak across the sky from many directions. For optimal viewing, find an open skyline, where you can view the horizon without obstructions, such as buildings or trees.  Try to view the Perseids as far away from artificial lights as possible. The darker the sky, the better viewing experience you can have. Lie on the ground and look straight up. Remember, your eyes can take up to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness, so allow plenty of time for your eyes to adjust.

About the Perseids

The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. Every August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet’s debris. This debris field consists of bits of ice and dust — most over 1,000 years old — and burns up in Earth’s atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year. The Perseids can be seen all over the sky, but the best viewing opportunities will be across the northern hemisphere. Those with sharp eyes will see that the meteors radiate from the direction of the constellation Perseus.

NASA Ustream: Observe the Perseid Meteor Shower

On Aug. 12, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will host a live Ustream broadcast about the Perseid meteor shower. The event will highlight the science behind the Perseids, as well as NASA research related to meteors and comets. The broadcast will air 9 p.m. CDT Aug. 12, to 1 a.m. CDT Aug. 13 on the following Ustream channel: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-msfc

Special guests will include meteor experts Dr. Bill Cooke, Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw, all of NASA’s Micrometeoroid Office, located at Marshall. They will provide on-air commentary, as well as answer questions online, using Marshall social media accounts. Also scheduled to join the broadcast, via telephone, are experts from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in Houston; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; the American Meteor Society; the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California; and others.

There are two methods to join the online conversation during the broadcast. NASA followers can tweet questions to “@NASA_Marshall” using the hashtag “#askNASA.” Followers may also post questions on the Marshall Facebook account, replying to the 9 p.m. Aug. 12 Perseid “Q&A” post at: https://www.facebook.com/nasamarshallcenter

Viewing Tips to Enjoy the Perseid Show

North America has a pretty good seat for this cosmic event.

1.  First, check the visibility map to make sure it’s visible from your location.

2.  Then check the weather – if you are expecting clouds, then Mother Nature has just rained on your parade and you won’t be able to see any meteors from outside your home. However, we will continue to stream clear skies here overnight, trying to find the best view of the night sky from our network of ground based telescopes.

3. If the weather gods are smiling down upon you, find a safe, dark location – away from city lights and lay out beneath the stars.  You don’t need to look in any particular direction, just straight up, but away from the moon.  Meteors can appear all over the sky.

4.  Add a lawn chair or sleeping bag and some snacks and you should be set!

NASA All Sky Camera Catches Perseids Meteors

Tuesday night, the skies over Huntsville were filled with images of the Perseids meteor shower. This year, the Perseids shower will peak on August 12 and, weather permitting, it will be a sight you won’t want to miss. 

Join NASA astronomer Bill Cooke and his team of experts at Marshall Space Flight Center on August 12 for an ‘Up All Night’ web chat as they answer your questions about the Perseids. More information about the chat can be found at https://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/perseids_2011.html

 
 
All meteors seen by Huntsville NASA all sky camera last night



The 10 confirmed Perseids seen by the Huntsville camera last night



Confirmed Perseids seen by the Tullahoma NASA all sky camera last night


 
 Locations of all Perseid meteors recorded by our cameras so far this year
 
 
All Images credit: NASA/MSFC/Meteoroid Environment