Perseid meteor shower August 2020: how and when to watch
The Perseid meteor shower is going to put on a show overnight but the light of the moon could reduce the visibility. Here's everything you need to know to enjoy the celestial spectacle.
The year 2020 has been one to forget for many, with the world suffering the Covid-19 pandemic and a range of other disasters. But Mother Nature is going to put on a beautiful show tonight, as the Perseid meteor shower reaches its most intense peak of activity, although the show will go on for some time afterwards.
Perseid Meteor Shower: all thanks to the Comet Swift-Tuttle
What's up in the night sky this August? 🔭— NASA (@NASA) August 8, 2020
On Aug. 9, Mars appears close to the Moon before dawn. Look toward the south, high in the sky, and you can't miss it. On Aug. 12, catch the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. When & where to look up: https://t.co/gShGniqN1q pic.twitter.com/5buykpoDLh
The beautiful meteor shower is linked to the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. This means that every August, the earth passes through the comet’s debris field. The ice and dust, which has accumulated over thousands of years, burn up in our atmosphere to create the Perseid meteor shower. The tiny dust particles hit our atmosphere at over 200,000 km/h and burn up, so don't go chasing the meteors expecting to find a meteorite fall to earth.
The shower is named after the constellation Perseus, where you'll find the shower's radiant point. Although there are so many meteors you'll see them across much of the sky.
The finest meteor shower...
The Perseid meteor shower is said to be one of the most outstanding celestial events and possibly the best meteor shower and the good news, provided you have clear skies, is that it is reaching a peak tonight. Even though it is actually active for many weeks, tonight will see the most intense activity (11 August into 12 August). The morning of 13 August will be pretty good too.
People can usually expect to see 60-80 meteors per hour (but the moon will effect that number this year) and the best time for viewing will be the hours before dawn, when the Earth is facing directly into the trail of the debris that causes this display.
Note that the meteor shower can be seen in the southern hemisphere, although those in the northern half of the planet will see more meteors. In the northern hemisphere you may see some meteors before midnight, but in the southern hemisphere you'll have to wait until later on. In both hemispheres the best time is the hours before dawn.
Go outside the city
In order to fully experience the Perseid meteor shower, experts suggest that people should try and get away from the city and away from the heavy light pollution of urban areas. You don't need to take binoculars to enjoy the show, the meteors are easily visible to the naked eye.
The moon could put the dampers on the show
The moon will be at its last quarter phase (waning crescent moon) in the best hours for watching, so its light may cause problems in seeing the fainter meteors. In truly dark years you might see up to 100 meteors an hour, but the moonlight will probably reduce that to 40 or 50 at the peak moments.
Try and find a structure that blocks direct moonlight getting into your eyes - trees, barns, rocks or hills - to enjoy the shower to the maximum.
Look to the north-east
While the meteors fly out to most parts of the sky, the radiant point in the north-east, so try and focus your gaze on that for the most part. If you've lost your bearings, remember that most smart phones have a compass on them, so you can check that. But don't spend long looking at the screen!
And don't give up after a couple of minutes. The meteors come in bursts, so give them time. And your eyes need up to 20 minutes to fully adjust to the darkness of the sky, so give them time. Our recommendation - grab a deckchair wherever you're going and sit back for a while and hopefully enjoy the show.
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