Party with the Perseids

Call your friends. It’s time once again for the annual Perseid meteor shower, typically the greatest shower of the year. This event occurs during the Northern Hemisphere summer, so even many people who don’t consider themselves astronomers venture outdoors to watch it.

The Perseids feature a slow (two-week) buildup to maximum (along with an equally slow decline to zero activity), and many bright meteors that leave luminous trails visible for several seconds. The trails form because Perseid meteors are fast — their speeds top 125,000 mph (200,000 km/h). Usually, Perseid meteors appear white or bluish white.

In 2018, the New Moon fortuitously occurs August 11, so our normally brilliant satellite will be absent during the shower’s peak, which falls on the night of August 12 and the morning of the 13th. If you see the Moon at all, it will be a thin crescent low in the western sky that will set an hour or so after the Sun. Perhaps the only negative about this year’s Perseids is that the peak occurs on a Sunday night into Monday morning, so work commitments may limit the number of people who actually view the shower.

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