The Perseid meteor shower is set to peak this weekend.
Skywatchers are always excited for August. Stargazing is at its best with warm and generally clear nights - and it's the time for the Perseid meteor shower, considered the most consistent performer of all of the annual showers.
Normally without any meteor showers we see 5-10 meteors per hour in areas with a dark sky (though this varies a bit by season). Routinely the Perseids produce 80-100 meteors per hour as the Earth plows through debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle. But this year could produce an outburst of meteors.
Usually, the Earth only catches the edge of this debris, but some years this band is deflected slightly (by the gravity of Jupiter ) and the Earth hits the debris more directly. Scientists think this is one of those years. We could see up to 200 meteors an hour!
When to watch
Timing will be important! The peak of the shower will occur on the morning of Saturday, August 12, from about 10 a.m. PDT. That means Friday and Saturday nights will both be good shows, although the best time will be in the predawn hours on Saturday.
During that time we will be on the leading edge of the Earth as it orbits the sun ( at 67,000mph ) and this will sweep up additional meteors increasing the rate.
If you can't get out in the early hours of Friday, you can still see part of the Perseids. The shower actually lasts for about two weeks. The number of meteors won't be as large, but you can still see some spectacular meteors flash across the sky.
Here in Spokane we are not predicting any rain for Friday, but Saturday there is a chance of showers over the mountainous areas.
Things should be relatively clear, weather wise, but the smoke sitting over the area will likely make it difficult to see if it does not move out ahead of the weekend.
Things should definitely begin to clear out, smoke wise, come next week.
Tips for watching
The good news is that watching a meteor shower requires no equipment beyond your eyes. However, the real key to seeing a lot of meteors is a wide view of a dark sky. This will allow you to see if the fainter meteors. So getting away from city lights will help.
Let your eyes adjust for 30-40 minutes to maximize your night vision.
A blanket on the ground or a lounger are also great for extended viewing of the sky.
The meteor shower is named after the constellation Perseus which is the "radiant" point for the shower. The Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky; however, if you extend their tails back they will all appear to "radiate" from Perseus.
Besides producing numerous meteors, the Perseid shower also tends to produce an abundance of bright meteors called bolides. These are some of the most dramatic meteors you will see. They sometimes leave glowing trails or explode as they smash into the atmosphere.
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