Poor Prospects for the Perseids

While the Geminid meteor shower of mid-December reigns supreme as the northern hemisphere’s most productive display of shooting stars, August’s Perseids, coming in a close second,  are the most widely observed meteor shower of the year. Why? Warm temperatures find families spending more time outdoors during the summer season enjoying cookouts, camping, or any other assortment of late evening activities. Normally 60+ green, red or orange Perseids can be observed per hour during peak activity. Unfortunately, for 2019 a waxing gibbous Moon (Full on the 15th) will severely hamper observing this meteor shower which peaks on the night of August 12-13.

However, while moonlight will wash out all but the brightest meteors before midnight on the night of the 12th, once the Moon sets around 3:48 a.m. that will leave just over an hour of dark sky observing time before dawn’s early light begins to brighten the sky. Somewhat helpful is the fact that Perseus, the constellation from where the meteors appear to radiate (known as the radiant point), is completely opposite the sky from the Moon. This circumstance could help extend your window of opportunity to an hour or two before the Moon sets! Hey, I’m trying my best to be optimistic here!!

Just around midnight Perseus can be found about halfway above the northeast horizon. To locate Perseus, use the constellation Cassiopeia as your guide. This star pattern looks like a sideways capital “M” or “W.”

The Perseid meteors are about the size of a thumb nail as they plunge into Earth’s atmosphere at 134,222 miles per hour (37 miles per second) and disintegrate. You know you’ve seen a Perseid if you can trace the path of that meteor back to the radiant point. If peak night is cloudy you can try your luck on the nights before and after. The Moon will still be an issue however and the number of potential meteors will also be much lower as the Earth will no longer be passing through the denser regions of the meteor stream.

Good luck and clear skies.

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