This graphic shows the radiant of the Perseid Meteor Shower and the orbit of the parent comet, Comet Swift-Tuttle, compared to the Earth.
(Image Sources: Wikipedia.org, By Aanderson@amherst.edu - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41821851)
By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower
This year's Perseid Meteor Shower, which peaks late this week, is considered the best meteor shower of the year by NASA and most astronomers.
Astronomically, the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower this year occurs Thursday Afternoon, 2021 August 12 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time (EDT) / 19:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). However, the best time to watch most meteor showers, including this year's Perseids, is always between local midnight and dawn, when the Earth is rotating into the meteor shower.
So, the best time to view this year's Perseid Meteor Shower is late Wednesday night / early Thursday morning and late Thursday night / early Friday morning.
At the peak time, sometimes up-to 50-to-100 meteors could possibly be seen per-hour, if observing conditions are ideal. Depending on your location, weather conditions, and the condition of your eye-sight, seeing 40-to-60 meteors per-hour would be more likely.
As most meteors are often dim, it is best to view a meteor shower away from city lights, which cause a brightening of the sky at night, and hence, the dimmest meteors are often missed. And, you want to go out ahead of time, before you start actual viewing of meteors, to get your eyes accustomed to the dark sky. Dark-adapting your eyes for meteor watching could take up-to one half-hour.
Also, after your eyes are dark-adapted, do not look at your cellular telephone while looking for meteors. The light you see from your telephone could disrupt your dark-adapted night-vision.
For the Perseid Meteor Shower this year, the Moon will be in a Waxing Crescent Phase, having passed the primary lunar phase of New Moon four days earlier (Sunday, 2021 August 8 at 9:50 a.m. EDT / 13:50 UTC: Lunation #1220); the primary Moon phase of First Quarter will occur on Sunday, 2021 August 15 at 11:19 a.m. EDT / 15:19 UTC. Although a thin lunar crescent will be visible in the early evening, the Moon will set before local midnight. Even during the early evening, there should not be quite as much reflected sunlight from the Moon to obscure the dimmer meteors. Try not to look directly at the Moon, so it does not hinder your dark-adapted eye-sight.
Actually, some meteors from the Perseid Meteor Shower can be seen as early as mid-July and as late as late August (~July 17 to August 24); but they are few and far-between. Most Perseid meteors can be seen three-to-five days before and three-to-five days after the peak time, which is considered, approximately, between August 9 and 14 each year.
Viewers in the Northern Hemisphere are fortunate that the Perseid Meteor Shower arrives during the Summer month of August, when temperatures are comfortable for night-time viewing. However, some locations (such as in the mountains) could be cooler in the early-morning hours. So, be sure to check your local weather forecast (with NOAA Weather Radio, local forecasts on radio, television or local newspapers, or the Internet) and bring a sweater or jacket with you if your location has a cooler forecast.
Be aware that sometimes August can be very humid with poor seeing conditions. And, the closer to the horizon, the worse the seeing conditions could be.
Binoculars and telescopes are not very useful for finding meteors. Meteors streak across the sky in a very brief period of time, too short to aim binoculars or a telescope. So, the best way to view a meteor shower is to lie on the ground (perhaps on a blanket, sheet, or beach-towel—or possibly in a reclining beach or lawn-chair), in an area with a good view of the entire sky (with few obstructions such as buildings, trees or hills, perhaps at a higher elevation), and keep scanning the entire sky with your naked-eyes (one-power).
Meteor showers appear to emanate from a radiant point in the sky. For the Perseid Meteor Shower, the radiant appears to be within the Constellation Perseus, named for the hero of Greek mythology (hence, the name Perseid Meteor Shower). However, you should not, necessarily, be looking only at Perseus, when looking for meteors in this shower.
Meteors can appear in any part of the sky at any time. In fact, looking towards Perseus may not result in finding the best meteors, as meteors coming from the apparent radiant may be seen for a shorter time in the sky, with much shorter sky streaks.
A meteor shower normally consists of dust particles related to a comet. Each time a comet approaches the Sun, the comet loses dust particles following the melting of ice on the comet. These dust particles, called meteoroids, continue to follow the same orbit as the comet and form a meteoroid stream. Each year, as the Earth orbits the Sun, the Earth passes through several of these meteoroid streams, becoming Earth's meteor showers.
The Earth's gravity then attracts many of these meteoroids to fall to Earth, and they are viewed by people as meteors, as they burn-up, often high in the atmosphere. Most are extremely small and burn-up completely. From time-to-time, larger particles enter the atmosphere and create brilliant displays known as fire-balls or bolides. If these particles are large enough, they may not completely burn-up and land on Earth as a meteorite.
Many museums and science centers display meteorites to the general public. From 1939 to 1991, the original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center - Pittsburgh's science and technology museum from 1939 to 1991) displayed the fifth largest fragment of the meteorite that formed Barringer Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona. This large meteorite is now displayed on the second floor of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center, outside the entrance to the Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium. Meteorites are also on display in the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Meteors can be seen any night of the year, although they are not predictable and are rare outside of one of the annual meteor showers. The vast majority of meteors that can be seen during the Perseid Meteor Shower originate from Comet Swift-Tuttle, which has an orbital period of 133 years, leaving behind a trail of dust and grit. Comet Swift-Tuttle was discovered in 1862 and last returned for Earth viewing in 1992.
Comet Swift-Tuttle measures about 16 miles / 25 kilometers across, much larger than the object that is thought to have fallen to Earth which resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs (about 6 miles / 10 kilometers across) approximately 66 million years ago (after the dinosaurs had lived on Earth for about 165 million years!).
Comet Swift-Tuttle will make a very close approach to the Earth in the year A.D. 4479. Scientists are now studying whether some day Comet Swift-Tuttle could impact the Earth. Comet Swift–Tuttle has been described as "the single most dangerous object known to humanity".
There are two additional meteor showers, which both peaked at the end of July, with some meteors still visible now.
The Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower peaked at 1:00 a.m. EDT / 5:00 UTC on July 29; these meteors are visible each year between July 12 and August 23. It is not certain which comet originated the Southern Delta Aquariids. This is considered a strong meteor shower, with 15-to-20 meteors visible per-hour, around the peak of shower; fewer would now be visible per-hour.
The evening of July 29 / early-morning of July 30 saw the peak of the Alpha Capracornid meteor shower. The official peak occurred on July 30 at 2:00 a.m. EDT / 6:00 UTC. At the peak time, five meteors per-hour are expected, making the Alpha Capracornids a minor meteor shower; of course, now there would be fewer Alpha Capracornids visible per-hour. The Alpha Capracornids, which originated as remnants of Comet 169P / NEAT, are visible each year from July 3 to August 15.
Another minor meteor shower may be visible to some between August 28 and September 5; the peak is expected August 31 / September 1. The Aurigid Meteor Shower is believed to have originated as remnants of Comet Kless (C / 1911 N1). Astronomers do not know the composition of this meteoric debris. So, it is uncertain how the meteors from this shower may interact with the Earth's atmosphere, and hence, scientists are unsure how visible this shower may be each year.
So in mid-August, the time for viewing is right, and the less moonlight is great. And, of course, with the warm weather most of us experience in the Northern Hemisphere, this time of year, what could be better for viewing meteors?
Of course, meteor showers, like all celestial observations, are weather-permitting. Even a few clouds could obscure quite a few meteors.
If the weather in your area does not permit direct viewing of this meteor shower outdoors, it is possible (but not guaranteed) you may be able to use Google, Yahoo, Bing, Lycos, or your favorite Internet search engine to find special, live-stream web-casts of the meteor shower at one or more sites on the Internet.
A cautionary note for those who find it necessary to watch the meteor shower on the Internet. The video camera, used for each live-stream web-cast, can only aim at one part of the sky at a time. Hence, do not expect to see as many meteors as you might see with your own eyes outside. Outdoors, you can easily scan the entire sky for meteors, while a camera aimed at one area of the sky will only be able to see the meteors that enter that particular field-of-view.
Internet Links to Additional Information ----
Perseid Meteor Shower: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perseids
Comet Swift-Tuttle: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet_Swift%E2%80%93Tuttle
Constellation Perseus: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perseus_%28constellation%29
South Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Delta_Aquariids
Alpha Capracornid Meteor Shower: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_Capricornids
Aurigid Meteor Shower:
Link 2 >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurigids
Meteor Shower: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteor_shower
Meteor: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteoroid#Meteor
Meteoroid: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteoroid
Meteorite: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteoroid#Meteorites
Fifth largest fragment of the meteorite which struck Barringer Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona, which was displayed (1939 to 1991) at the original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center), Pittsburgh's science and technology museum from 1939 to 1991. Today, this meteorite is displayed on the second floor of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center, next to the Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium:
Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/Buhlexhibits.htm#meteorite
Related Blog-Posts ---
Annual Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Tue. Night / Early Wed. Morning." Mon., 2020 Aug. 10.
"Tonight's 'Meteor Outburst' w/Web-Casts: 150 Years After Comet-Meteor Shower Link Found." Thur., 2016 Aug. 11.
"Great Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Wed. Night w/ Web-Casts." Wed., 2015 Aug. 12.
"Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks in Sky & Web-Casts." Tue., 2014 Aug. 12.
"Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Sun., Mon. Nights." Sat., 2013 Aug. 10.
Monday, 2021 August 9.
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Glenn A. Walsh, Informal Science Educator &
Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/weblog/spacewatchtower/gaw/
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Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: Link >>> http://buhlplanetarium.tripod.com/fotz/
SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/
Formerly Astronomical Observatory Coordinator & Planetarium Lecturer, original Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center), Pittsburgh's science & technology museum from 1939 to 1991.
Formerly Trustee, Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh: Link >>> http://www.planetarium.cc Buhl Observatory: Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2016/11/75th-anniversary-americas-5th-public.html
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago: Link >>> http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear: Link >>> http://johnbrashear.tripod.com
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries: Link >>> http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc