ST. LOUIS – The Perseid Meteor Shower is now underway and is about one week from its mid-August peak.
Considered the best meteor shower of the year, you can see up to 50 meteors per hour according to NASA, and sometimes even more if conditions are right. The fast and bright meteors often leave long wakes of light behind them as they streak through the atmosphere making them easy to see even for the casual astronomer.
The Perseids get their name from the constellation Perseus because they appear to radiate from that spot in the sky, but the constellation isn’t the source. When comets come around the sun, they leave a dusty trail behind them. This time each year, Earth passes by debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, which burns up in our atmosphere.
“Comets are those cosmic litterers of the solar system. They leave behind little bits of dust and rock and debris,” explains Will Snyder, manager of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium at the St. Louis Science Center. “As the Earth goes through that same place in space, those little particles get superheated in the atmosphere and can create those brilliant streaks of light we see overhead.”
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Perseids are best viewed during the pre-dawn hours, though at times it is possible to see some as early as 10 p.m.
“If you can lay back, give yourself a flat, clear view of the sky, and, of course, get away from any lights if you can. The Moon’s our natural enemy, but any lights from buildings, on your porch or property, those can always spoil the show,” says Snyder.
The Perseids peak during the night of Tuesday, August 11 into the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, August 12. Also, you can still just make up Comet NEOWISE in the southwest sky after sunset but it is fading fast. Planets Jupiter and Saturn are bright in the southeastern sky. In the morning, Mars and Venus continue to put on a show before sunrise.