Those hoping to enjoy the spectacle will quarrel with a third moon, which will shine more from the weakest shooting stars. But the Perseids are rich in fireballs – or meteors brighter than the planet Venus – which will still triumph over the stubborn whiteness of the Moon.
Regardless of where you live in the Lower 48s, you have a chance to catch some of the meteors – weather permitting. There is no specific place in the sky to look. Simply find a clear, dark place, let your eyes adjust, look and enjoy the show.
Where do meteors come from?
Meteors will be more numerous during the early hours. This is when the constellation Perseus, from which meteors will appear to spring, will be the highest in the sky. This point is called “radiant”;. But the best shooting stars with the longest tails are usually found perpendicular to the radiator.
Don’t fool around too much in terminology or find a “perfect point,” though. Everywhere in the sky will suffice, with greater perspective away from the moonlight.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth plows through a stream of debris left in the wake of a comet or asteroid. Like driving through a bunch of bugs on the highway, the Earth eavesdrops on a scattering of interstellar pebbles and space rocks during its annual orbit. In the case of the Perseids, those little rocks come from the Swift-Tuttle comet’s recent passage.
Instead of leaving behind a nasty stain on the glass, these particles burn up in our outer atmosphere about 60 miles high, leaving behind a ray of light. Their high speed – about 36 miles per second – generates large frictions when gas molecules encounter the boundaries of the atmosphere. That heats them up to the point of burning, producing a wonderful trace of color.
Where do meteor colors come from?
When a meteor burns, the elemental compounds it contains produce light. Perseids are rich in sodium, which makes up their yellow color. Some meteors also contain magnesium, iron, carbon and silicon.
Sometimes a hectic trail lasts for a few moments right after that. This is where a small air cushion was compressed before the meteor arrived. Compression causes heat, and air can ionize and produce light. The paths are usually dense and can be used to reflect radio waves. Thus astronomers are able to “hear” meteors from Earth.
How to enjoy the show
If you hope to enjoy the shooting stars, head to a clear, dark place away from city lights. Beaches, balcony areas and parks are ideal places. Having an open and panoramic view of the sky is essential.
If the weather ends with clouds on Tuesday evening, do not worry. Wednesday night will feature abundant meteors, and you may even catch some stragglers on Thursday. In fact, a sporadic meteor or two an hour is typical throughout August, thanks to a relatively wide stream of multi-material debris on its periphery.
Quadrantids in January, meanwhile, have a peak that lasts only a few hours.
Not all of the shooting stars you will see this week are Perseids. The South Delta Waters, Kappa Cygnids and Piscis Austrinids are small meteor showers that can spit out of a shooting star or two an hour. You can tell them except Perseids, because their shooting stars would travel in a different direction in the sky, or have a different speed or color.
You can also capture Jupiter and Saturn in the southwest sky. Jupiter will be particularly bright.
So, if you are looking for a fun and meaningful activity, away from society to share with friends and loved ones, try your luck chasing shooting stars. You can just get to make a wish.