Perseid Meteors by Moonlight

The little bits of interplanetary grit making up the Perseid meteoroid stream orbit the Sun with a period of about 130 years, like their object of origin, Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The richest part of the stream is strung out near the comet itself, which last dipped through the inner solar system in 1992. So the shower's annual sky show has waned of late — gone are the great Perseid meteor displays of the early 1990s.

The Perseid meteors appear to stream away from their radiant near the border of Perseus and Cassiopeia. And while you're outside on a dark night, don't forget to look for the Double Cluster and the Andromeda Galaxy, two of the easiest "faint fuzzies" to spot with your unaided eyes.
S&T Illustration
This year's standard Perseid peak is predicted to come around 18h Universal Time (2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time) on August 12th. That's good timing for the Far East, but for North America it splits the difference between the nights of August 11-12 and 12-13. Flip a coin — or watch the evening weather forecast — to decide which night to watch for them. The shower is also active to a lesser degree for many days beforehand and several days afterward.

The waning Moon is nearly at last quarter those two nights. It rises an hour or two after dark and will brighten the sky somewhat during the best Perseid-activity hours, from 11 p.m. until dawn. Nevertheless, this is a pretty reliable shower, and some Perseids should be there for the catching.

Moreover, meteor specialists Esko Lyytinen and Mikhail Maslov suggest we may encounter a ribbon of very old debris (ejected by the comet in 1610) on the morning of August 12th near 9h UT (4 a.m. CDT; 2 a.m. PDT). This could up the count for an hour or so. Both researchers also think that Earth's proximity to the stream's core might produce an additional surge four hours earlier, around 5h UT (1 a.m. EDT).

You may also see occasional meteors from two lesser showers that are also active: the Delta Aquarids and Kappa Cygnids. These move noticeably slower than Perseids, and they travel in different directions as if originating from their respective constellations.

Meteor watching is great "eyeball astronomy." Find a spot with an open view of the sky, wrap up warmly in winter clothes or a sleeping bag, and use mosquito repellent where you're not wrapped. Lie back in a lounge chair and watch whatever part of your sky is darkest. Be patient. You may see a meteor zipping into the upper atmosphere every few minutes on average.

Click here for Sky & Telescope's guide to the year's major meteor showers.

9 thoughts on “Perseid Meteors by Moonlight

  1. Denise

    In one paragraph – 4 different time zones. Is that really necessary? Just makes it confusing – especially if you are just skimming through to find the best time to look.

  2. Bill

    I live up here at Victorville , Ca. and I just happened to sleep outside last night ( Aug.11th ) because it was a +100 degree day. As I roamed around with my 20X50 bionoc’s , looking at Jupiter and it’s moons , I noriced in the corner of my eye for a split second . Then it happened again about 10 minutes later , I then realized that I was in the middle of a meteor shower ! I checked in at skyandtelescope.com and YUP , it was the Perseids ! I’m getting back into Astromomy after being away from it for a while , even tuned up my Meade 4.5″ Equatorial Refecting Telescope . My point is that I saw the Perseid’s without even trying ! It’s good viewing in California !

  3. Bill

    I live up here at Victorville , Ca. and I just happened to sleep outside last night ( Aug.11th ) because it was a +100 degree day. As I roamed around with my 20X50 bionoc’s , looking at Jupiter and it’s moons , I noriced in the corner of my eye for a split second . Then it happened again about 10 minutes later , I then realized that I was in the middle of a meteor shower ! I checked in at skyandtelescope.com and YUP , it was the Perseids ! I’m getting back into Astromomy after being away from it for a while , even tuned up my Meade 4.5″ Equatorial Refecting Telescope . My point is that I saw the Perseid’s without even trying ! It’s good viewing in California !

  4. Ernie

    I observed from 0810 UTC to 0830 UTC and saw 8 Perseids, ranging from 3rd magnitude to 0 magnitude. The highlight was a first magnitude “point meteor” that looked like a star flashing on and off. This occurred in western Perseus near the location of NGC 1528, at about 0823 UTC. Another highlight was two first magnitude meteors occurring one right after the other and moving in the same direction. This was over towards Cygnus and Draco around 0820 UTC.

  5. deadzheadz

    The wife , daughter and I set up camp in the back of the pickup here in Livermore,Ca last night for a star show my 11 year old daughter will never forget. From 9:30 until 11PM we spotted 25 to 30 meteors comimng down. Some were so long and bright we had to turn our heads to follow the complete tail. Unbelievable.
    Thanks for posting such a detailed description of times and location and don;t worry about posting 4 time zones; most people can get through it just keep up the great work.

  6. Sabrina

    I was so glad to see that you DID include several timezones. Please keep up the good work! Thanks

  7. Sabrina

    I was so glad to see that you DID include several timezones. Please keep up the good work! Thanks

  8. Peter Abrams

    I watched the Perseids for one hour last night and counted 29 during that time. I was out between 11:45 and 12:45 DST just north of Port Hope Ontario. Look along the NORTH shore of Lake Ontario about halfway between Toronto and Bellville. At least two were NOT Perseids as the radiant point was wrong. They actually moved towards Perseus. One I saw was quite cool. It left no track to my eye but seemed merely to grow brighter, then fade. I assume it was travelling directly toward my line of sight, got bigger then disappeared. I don’t remember ever seeing one this way before. See Ernie’s post above. I think we may be referring to the same thing. It was the best show I have seen for a few years.

  9. Bettye

    Can anyone help? I’m looking for a photo similar to what I saw while stargazing and catching the end of the Perseids meteor shower around 4:00 a.m. EST on August 13. I was looking northwest, mid-sky, when a brilliant light appeared, greater in magnitude than I’ve ever seen the planet Venus. This brilliant, diamond-like light was soon surrounded with what looked like overlapping pools of molten gold, making almost a flower-petal pattern with the brilliant light in the middle. I had time to think, Wow, that is magnificent!! Then it was gone. I was not aware of any change in magnitude during the event. I’ve been told by my local astronomy guru that I saw a point meteor. Comments?

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