It's time once again for nature to put on its late-summer fireworks show: the Perseid meteor shower. This year's best viewing will be before dawn on Aug. 12, with a second chance after sunset that night, according to the editors of StarDate magazine.
To download high-resolution images and high-definition video animation of the Perseid shower, visit the StarDate Online Media Center. At the site, you can also sign up to receive periodic updates on skywatching events.
At its peak, this year's Perseid shower could produce up to 100 meteors per hour. The actual peak is during the day for viewers in North America, so they won't see as many meteors as other parts of the world. Note that moonlight will wash out the view of some of the meteors. On Aug. 12, the waning gibbous Moon will rise before midnight and climb higher hour by hour. It will be fairly bright, with more than 60 percent of its surface illuminated. Even so, one should still expect to see a fair number of bright meteors.
Perseid meteors appear to fall from the constellation Perseus, but they are not associated with it. The meteors are actually leftover debris from comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseid meteors recur each year when Earth passes through its debris trail.
For the best view, get away from city lights. Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites. Lie on a blanket or reclining chair to get a full-sky view. If you can see all of the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision.
Published bi-monthly by The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory, StarDate magazine provides readers with skywatching tips, skymaps, beautiful astronomical photos, astronomy news and features, and a 32-page Sky Almanac each January.
Established in 1932, The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas, hosts multiple telescopes undertaking a wide range of astronomical research under the darkest night skies of any professional observatory in the continental United States. McDonald is home to the consortium-run Hobby-Eberly Telescope, one of the world's largest, which will soon be upgraded to begin the HET Dark Energy Experiment. An internationally known leader in astronomy education and outreach, McDonald Observatory is also pioneering the next generation of astronomical research as a founding partner of the Giant Magellan Telescope.