Tonight might be the perfect night to stay up late. The Perseid meteor showers will put on a spectacular show as they reach their peak. The Perseids light up the sky every summer as Earth passes through the trail left by Comet Swift-Tuttle, a miles-wide behemoth that comes by Earth every 133 years. The meteors began streaking across the skies in late July and will peak on the night of Aug. 12.
The trail’s dust particles usually shoot through the sky at up to 60 meteors per hour. This year, however, a full moon occurs right at the shower peak, reducing the visible meteor rates down to 15–20 per hour.
For viewers in the Northern Hemisphere, the Perseids are perhaps the best meteor showers of the year. NASA calls it the “fireball champion” of annual meteor showers for its record-breaking number of extra-bright meteors. These fireballs are visible even in light-polluted areas like cities, although you’ll see additional, fainter meteors if you get to a dark sky area.
Here’s a tip from NASA for viewing meteors: Let your eyes become adjusted to the dark — it takes about 30 minutes — and you’ll see more meteors. And stay off your phone; looking at devices with bright screens will negatively affect your night vision and reduce the number of meteors you see.
So, stay up late, keep an eye on the sky and treat yourself to the astronomical show. Although the meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus, meteors can generally be seen all over the sky, so you don’t need to look in any particular direction.
— Jan Hecht, senior editor
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