Plan for the Perseids!

Conditions will be ideal for watching this year's Perseid meteor shower. Especially in North America.

Perseid fireball

A bright Perseid meteor streaks down the sky. Most meteors are white, but this one began red and flared to brilliant blue-white during its 1-second-long blaze of glory.

People are asking about this year's Perseid meteors, so here's the scoop. The Perseids should peak late on the night of August 12–13, 2015, and observing conditions this year will be excellent (weather permitting!). No moonlight will brighten the sky.

Furthermore, the shower’s exact peak is predicted to run for several hours centered on 4 a.m. August 13th Eastern Daylight Time (1 a.m. PDT; 8h Universal Time). This coincides perfectly with the best meteor-watching hours — from late evening to the first light of dawn — in the time zones of North America.

But don't hold out for that one date! Already the occasional early Perseid is showing up, and we're also in the midst of the weaker, long-lasting South Delta Aquariid and Alpha Capricornid showers.

A dramatic illustration of this fact appears on today's Spaceweather.com, as reproduced below. The colored ellipses are the reconstructed orbits of fireballs recorded last night by multiple stations in NASA's network of all-sky meteor cameras.

Fireball orbits, July 31, 2015

In this diagram of the inner solar system, the orbits of fireballs reported by NASA on July 31st intersect at a single point: Earth. The orbits are color-coded by velocity at Earth, from slow (red) to fast (blue). The orange batch were Alpha Capricornids, the narrow bundle of green ones were South Delta Aquariids, and the blue-green ones running vertically through Earth were early Perseids.

Unfortunately there's a bright Moon now and for the next several days. But its interfering light will diminish by last quarter phase on the night of August 6th. Make your viewing plans now.

How To Meteor-Watch

Many more people follow the Perseids now than did a generation or two ago, especially families on rural vacations.

A meteor watch goes best if you know what you’re doing. Activity should be picking up by 10 or 11 p.m., but the later in the night you go out the better. And plan to be patient. After midnight on the peak night you may see a Perseid a minute on average under a fairly rural sky. But earlier in the evening, or on other nights,  or under more ordinary skies with light pollution, your waits will be longer.

Dress warmly and wear a hat. The temperature under a clear August sky late at night will be more like October, and you’ll be lying still for a long time. Find a spot in advance with an open view overhead and perhaps somewhat to the northeast, with no lights shining into the edge of your vision. Bring a reclining lawn chair and blankets or a sleeping bag. The wraps are for both warmth and insect protection; bring repellent for parts of you not covered.

Lie back and gaze into sky’s the darkest part. Relax and settle in. Perhaps meditate with your eyes open.

Perseid radiant

A meteor from any shower can appear anywhere in the sky. You can tell Perseids by the fact that they appear to fly away from the direction of northern Perseus (under Cassiopeia) in the northeast, if you trace their paths backward far enough across the sky.

The slower Alpha Capricornids appear to radiate away from the western side of Capricornus, which is south in the middle of the night. The Delta Aquariids radiate from the bottom of Aquarius below the Water Jar, lower in the southeast in the middle of the night.

For more on meteor watching — and perhaps making a scientific meteor count reportable to the International Meteor Organization — see the August issue of Sky & Telescope, page 48.

 

One thought on “Plan for the Perseids!

  1. ChrisCrawford

    We’re running an crowd-sourced program to measure the spatial distribution of Perseids. Anybody with an Android smartphone can participate. You simply download the app at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.codysseus.meteorcounter. It has all the instructions you need. Basically, you just watch Perseids, and press the “volume up” button when you see one. The app records the exact time that you saw each Perseid. In the morning, it automatically emails your data to our data-collecting email address, along with the longitude and latitude. If we can get enough people submitting data, we’ll be able to analyze it statistically for spatial patterns. Your help would be much appreciated!

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