Pack some blankets and bug spray, and head away from the city lights. It’s time for the annual Perseid meteor shower.
Val Germann, president of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association, said this year’s shower is expected to be a good one, with the best prospects tonight and early Thursday morning.
The best viewing for meteor showers tends to be after midnight. But about every three to four years, Germann said, the Perseids produce meteors with long trails before midnight because of the angle at which the debris enters the atmosphere. This is expected to be one of those years, he said.
The phase of the moon and weather are two of the most important variables for viewing meteors. The moon will be a sliver tonight; the forecast is for partly cloudy skies and cool temperatures.
The traditional peak — an average of about one meteor per minute — is forecast to occur around dawn on Thursday, so some of the best viewing could be in the preceding hours.
“The time of peak will be broad like a hill, not like a mountain,” Germann said, adding that a smaller number of meteors should be visible until Friday or Saturday.
It doesn’t take a telescope
to enjoy the shower. Germann recommends finding a place on higher ground and dividing
the sky between a couple of people.
The Perseids appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus in the northeast, but the so-called shooting stars can appear just about anywhere. “Let your eyes wander around the sky to find it,” he said. “Look at the east and up high.”
Ralph Dumas of the Central Missouri Astronomical Association recommends getting away from the city to escape light pollution. “Don’t go south,” he said, “because the dome of light that sits over the city will block out the light of the meteor.”
The meteors hitting the atmosphere will appear to originate at one point, but then scatter everywhere. “They are going to look like they are coming out of Perseus, and heading in every direction,” Dumas said. “Just like the windshield of car going into a rainstorm.”
The meteors are the remnants of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Each year in mid-August, when the Earth nears the comet’s orbit, according to Sky and Telescope magazine, there is a meteor shower.
The shower will be different this year because of a double peak, caused by an extra mass of debris that was thrown from the comet in 1862. he first peak occurred Tuesday night and favored meteor watchers in Eastern Europe and Africa to western China, according to Sky and Telescope.