In 2020, the peak
mornings for the Perseid meteor shower August 11, 12 and
13 will feature meteors under moonlight. The Perseids tend
to be bright, so we expect a good percentage to overcome the moonlit
The Perseids have been
rising to their peak all month, and some Delta Aquariids are
still flying, too. Yead Muhammad in Bangladesh caught this
bright meteor on August 2, 2019.
The annual Perseid meteor shower is one of the most beloved meteor
showers of the year, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, where
the shower peaks on warm summer nights. No matter where you live
worldwide, the 2020 Perseid meteor shower will probably produce
the greatest number of meteors on the mornings of August 11, 12
and 13. On the peak mornings in 2020, the moon will be at or slightly
past its last quarter phase, so moonlight will somewhat mar this
years production. But the Perseids tend to be bright, and
a good percentage of them should be able to overcome the moonlight.
Who knows? You still might see up to 40 to 50 meteors per hour at
the showers peak.
Visit the Sunrise
Sunset Calendars site to find out when the moon sets in
your sky, remembering to check the moonrise and moonset box.
People tend to focus on the peak mornings of meteor showers, and
thats entirely appropriate. But meteors in annual showers
which come from streams of debris left behind in space by
comets typically last weeks, not days. Perseid meteors have
been streaking across our skies since around July 17. Well
see Perseids for 10 days or so after the peak mornings on August
11, 12 and 13, though at considerably reduced numbers. Yet, each
day as the moon wanes in the morning sky, less moonlight will obtrude
on the show. Starting on or around August 17, moon-free skies reign
all night long.
Also remember, the
the Delta Aquariid meteor shower is still rambling along
steadily. Youll see mostly Perseids, but also some Delta Aquariids
in the mix. Theres an explanation of how to tell the difference
toward the bottom of this article.
In the Northern Hemisphere, we rank the August Perseids as an all-time
favorite meteor shower of every year. For us, this major shower
takes place during the lazy, hazy days of summer, when many families
are on vacation. And what could be more luxurious than taking a
siesta in the heat of the day and watching this summertime classic
in the relative coolness of night?
Dont rule out early evenings, either. In a typical
year, although the meteor numbers increase after midnight, the Perseid
meteors still start to fly at mid-to-late evening from northerly
latitudes. South of the equator, the Perseids start to streak the
sky around midnight. If fortune smiles upon you, the evening hours
might offer you an earthgrazer a looooong, slow, colorful
meteor traveling horizontally across the evening sky. Earthgrazer
meteors are rare but memorable. Perseid earthgrazers appear before
midnight, when the radiant point of the shower is close to the horizon.
The radiant point for
the Perseid meteor shower is in the constellation Perseus.
But you dont have to find a showers radiant point
to see meteors. Instead, the meteors will be flying in all
parts of the sky.
What is the radiant point for the Perseid meteor shower?
If you trace all the Perseid meteors backward, they all seem to
come from the constellation Perseus, near the famous Double Cluster.
Hence, the meteor shower is named in the honor of the constellation
Perseus the Hero.
However, this is a chance alignment of the meteor shower radiant
with the constellation Perseus. The stars in Perseus are light-years
distant while these meteors burn up about 60 miles (100 km) above
the Earths surface. If any meteor survives its fiery plunge
to hit the ground intact, the remaining portion is called a meteorite.
Few if any meteors in meteor showers become meteorites,
however, because of the flimsy nature of comet debris. Most meteorites
are the remains of asteroids.
In ancient Greek star lore, Perseus is the son of the god Zeus
and the mortal Danaë. It is said that the Perseid shower commemorates
the time when Zeus visited Danaë, the mother of Perseus, in
a shower of gold.
From mid-northern latitudes,
the constellation Perseus, the stars Capella and Aldebaran,
and the Pleiades cluster light up the northeast sky in the
wee hours after midnight on August nights. The meteors radiate
from Perseus. Photo: Till Credner, AlltheSky.com
Heres a cool binocular
object to look for while youre watching the meteors.
The constellation Cassiopeia points out the famous Double
in the northern tip of the constellation Perseus.
Plus, the Double Cluster nearly marks the radiant of the Perseid
meteor shower. Photo by Flickr user madmiked
General rules for Perseid-watching. No special equipment,
or knowledge of the constellations, needed.
Find a dark, open
sky to enjoy the show. An open sky is essential because these
meteors fly across the sky in many different directions and in front
of numerous constellations.
Give yourself at least an hour of observing time, because
the meteors in meteor showers come in spurts and are interspersed
with lulls. Remember, your eyes can take as long as 20 minutes to
adapt to the darkness of night. So dont rush the process.
Know that the meteors all come from a single point in the sky.
If you trace the paths of the Perseid meteors backwards, youd
find they all come from a point in front of the constellation Perseus.
Dont worry about which stars are Perseus. Just enjoying knowing
and observing that they all come from one place on the skys
Enjoy the comfort of a reclining lawn chair. Bring along
some other things you might enjoy also, like a thermos filled with
a hot drink.
all good things come to those who wait.
Meteors are part of nature. Theres no way to predict exactly
how many youll see on any given night. Find a good spot, watch,
Youll see some.
Composite of 12 images
acquired on August 13, 2017, by Felix Zai in Toronto. He wrote:
Perseid meteor shower gave a good show even though the
moonlight drowned out most of the fainter ones. A huge fireball
was captured in this photo. Thanks, Felix! By the way,
its only in a meteor storm that youd
see this many meteors at once. Even in a rich shower, you
typically see only 1 or 2 meteors at a time.
Whats the source of the Perseid meteor shower? Every
year, from around July 17 to August 24, our planet Earth crosses
the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, the parent of the Perseid
meteor shower. Debris from this comet litters the comets orbit,
but we dont really get into the thick of the comet rubble
until after the first week of August. The bits and pieces from Comet
Swift-Tuttle slam into the Earths upper atmosphere at some
130,000 miles (210,000 km) per hour, lighting up the nighttime with
fast-moving Perseid meteors.
If our planet happens to pass through an unusually dense clump
of meteoroids comet rubble well see an
elevated number of meteors. We can always hope!
Comet Swift-Tuttle has a very eccentric oblong
orbit that takes this comet outside the orbit of Pluto when farthest
from the sun, and inside the Earths orbit when closest to
the sun. It orbits the sun in a period of about 133 years. Every
time this comet passes through the inner solar system, the sun warms
and softens up the ices in the comet, causing it to release fresh
comet material into its orbital stream.
Comet Swift-Tuttle last reached perihelion closest
point to the sun in December 1992 and will do so next in
The Perseids happen every year. Their parent
comet Swift-Tuttle takes about 130 years to
orbit the sun once. It last rounded the sun in the early 1990s
and is now far away. But we see the Perseids each year, when
Earth intersects the comets orbit, and debris left behind
by Swift-Tuttle enters our atmosphere. Chart via Guy
Looking for a dark area to observe from? Check out EarthSkys
interactive, worldwide Best
Places to Stargaze map.
Bottom line: The 2020 Perseid meteor shower is expected to produce
the most meteors in the predawn hours of August 11, 12 and 13, though
under the light of a moon at or just past first quarter phase.