August hosts Perseid, the best meteor shower of the year

This month, a spectacular sight is coming to the nighttime sky. Here's the lowdown on how you can catch a glimpse of the Perseids.

In 2010, photographer Stéphane Guisard captured this stunning image of Perseids and the Milky Way near the Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. European Southern Observatory/Stéphane Guisard

Astronomers and seasoned skywatchers love this time of the year because it brings some of the most exciting meteor showers -- including the annual Perseids that peaks in August.

More prominent in the Northern Hemisphere (and somewhat visible in the Southern), the Perseid meteor shower climaxes on August 11-13 and delivers more fireballs than the other annual showers. On those days (and the week before), be sure to look toward the constellation Perseus from 10:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. for the best glimpse of this dazzling event -- with conditions more favorable after midnight and peaking before sunrise.

During the event, NASA predicts that as many as 100 meteors per hour could be visible in darkened conditions. For best effect, those wanting to see Perseids should try and get away from bright city lights and look about half way into the northeast section of the nighttime sky.

Astronomers know that Perseids will always arrive in late July and August, as the cosmic dust derives from Earth passing through the debris trail from comet Swift-Tuttle's 130-year orbit. Many of the meteors that originate from the comet's dust trail will hit our atmosphere at 132,000 miles per hour before disintegrating.

"Comet Swift-Tuttle has a huge nucleus -- about 16 miles in diameter," said Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, in a statement. "Most other comets are much smaller, with nuclei only a few miles across. As a result, comet Swift-Tuttle produces a large number of meteoroids, many of which are large enough to produce fireballs."

About the author

Crave contributor Christopher MacManus regularly spends his time exploring the latest in science, gaming, and geek culture -- aiming to provide a fun and informative look at some of the most marvelous subjects from around the world.

 

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