Catching a Perseid Meteor – sooner may be better

The 2019 Perseid meteor shower peaks around 10pm on August 12th. But an almost-full Moon will drown out the fainter meteors. So start looking now, even in the evening sky, for early Perseids.

The hours after midnight are typically best to see more meteors. The Earth leads with its morning edge as it orbits the Sun, so we scoop up more interplanetary particles then. But the Perseid shower has two important features: 1) the shower produces many meteors ahead of the peak on the 12th. 2) many Perseids are bright. So, if you are out after dark this week, especially while the Moon is still thin, keep an eye out for meteors!

Another plus is the place were Perseids appear to come from in the sky (its ‘radiant’ in the constellation Perseus) is above our horizon most of the night. That also gives us a better chance to see more Perseids in the evening. Look in the darkest part of the sky to see more meteors. No need to find Perseus to see the meteors.

August sky around 10pm EDT from Westchester County, NY.
Note Perseus rising in the northeast.

For early risers, the mornings are dark until Moon sets after midnight starting on the 8th. Each night the Moon sets about 50 minutes later. But even on the 12th, there is about an hour between moon-set and the beginning of morning twilight. So there is a window of opportunity on the morning before the peak to see more Perseids.

One more interesting opportunity is when the radiant in Perseus rises after evening twilight. Sometimes, when the radiant is low in the sky, we see meteors skipping across the top of the atmosphere that trail across much of the sky.

Perseids are crumbs from Comet 109P/Swift–Tuttle. It takes 133 years to go around the Sun. It’ll be back in July 2126. Swift-Tuttle is 16 miles wide. That makes it the largest object, other than the Moon, to come near Earth. It’s larger than the object that struck the Earth and helped make the dinosaurs extinct. Calculations of Swift-Tuttle’s orbit predict it will come close, but not hit the Earth, for at least two thousand years.

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