The Perseid Meteor Shower is Coming

Perseid meteor shower

Composite photo of the Perseids over the Snowy Range. Image by David Kingham.

Get ready for some great celestial viewing on the nights of August 11-12 and 12-13.  That’s peak time for the 2018 Perseid Meteor Shower, which takes place from mid-July to mid-August each year.

The Perseid shower occurs when Earth passes through the orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle.  A cloud of debris that has been ejected from the comet accumulates along the orbit, with some particles having been there for a thousand years, while others are much more recent.   The name Perseid comes from the constellation Perseus, which is where the meteors appear to be coming from.

A few tips for successful meteor watching:

  •  find a dark place to watch from, as far away from city lights as possible.  A camping trip to the mountains would be ideal.
  •  you may see meteors any time after dark, but the peak hours tend to be between midnight and just before sunrise.
  •  the more accustomed to the dark your eyes are, the more you’ll see.  Try to spend at least 30 minutes away from any artificial lights before you start watching for meteors.
  •  make sure you have a comfortable place to sit or lie, some snacks, and some patience.  Peak rates are usually about 60 meteors per hour, but that’s still only about one every minute on average, and some of those will be faint.

And finally, a little trivia with a regional connection:  in John Denver’s song Rocky Mountain High, the line “I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky” is a reference to his experience watching the Perseid shower on a family camping trip.

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