The annual Perseid meteor shower is one of the most beloved meteor showers of the year, especially here in the United States, as the shower peaks on typically warm, summer nights.
The 2020 Perseid meteor shower is expected to produce the greatest number of meteors on the mornings of August 11, 12, and 13. On the peak mornings, the moon will be at or slightly past its last quarter phase, so moonlight will somewhat “dim” this year’s display.
Despite the moonlight that is expected, here are some things to consider when planning your meteor shower viewing:
A good percentage of the Perseid meteors are bright and should be able to outshine the bright moon.
Despite the moon, you may see up to 40 to 50 meteors per hour at the shower’s peak, even in the bright moonlight. Some years, as many as 100 meteors per hour have been spotted, though that is not likely this year.
The best time to watch will be before moonrise each night.
In a typical year, meteor numbers increase after midnight. But before dawn on all three peak mornings (August 11, 12 and 13) – bright moonlight will flood the sky.
Remember, your eyes can take as long as 20 minutes to adapt to the darkness of night. So, try not to rush the process. Be aware that the Perseid meteors will start to fly in mid-to-late evening but will be more visible after midnight.
On each of the three peak mornings, there will be less and less moonlight. Visit Sunrise Sunset Calendars to find out when the moon sets in your sky on each of those mornings, remembering to check the moonrise and moonset box.
Occasionally, the Perseid meteors that appear earlier in the evening hours might offer you an earthgrazer – a looooong, slow, colorful meteor traveling horizontally across the evening sky.
Earthgrazer meteors are rare but memorable. Perseid earthgrazers appear before midnight, when the radiant point of the shower is close to the horizon.
If you watch the meteors in moonlight, place yourself in the moon’s shadow.
Just place some large structure or natural object – a barn, a large tree, a house or even a large hill – between you and the moon. You will see more meteors that way than if you are standing out under the bright moonlight itself.
The show will go on.
People tend to focus on the peak mornings of meteor showers, and that is entirely appropriate. But meteors in annual showers – which come from streams of debris left behind in space by comets – typically last weeks, not days.
Perseid meteors have already been streaking across our skies since around July 17. We will see Perseids for 10 days or so after the peak mornings on August 11, 12, and 13, though at considerably reduced numbers.
Yet, each day as the moon wanes in the morning sky, less moonlight will obtrude on the show. Starting on or around August 17, moon-free skies reign all night long.
The Delta Aquariid meteor shower is still ongoing.
While you will likely see mostly Perseids, some Delta Aquariids may be in the mix. If you trace all the Perseid meteors backward, they all seem to come from the constellation Perseus, near the famous Double Cluster.
Hence, the meteor shower is named in the honor of the constellation Perseus the Hero.