WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Perseid meteor shower peaks Thursday evening

Posted August 11, 2016

Time-lapse image of a similar outburst of Perseid meteors in 2009 (credit: NASA/JPL)

— The most active meteor shower of the year peaks Thursday night into Friday morning.

Perseid meteors have been visible for several weeks in small numbers, but activity is expected to significantly increase after sunset on Thursday. Meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus in the north, giving the event its name.

Like other meteor showers, the Perseids are dust particles no bigger than Grape-Nuts cereal, entering the atmosphere at over speeds exceeding 130,000 miles per hour. That dust was left behind by comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle as it passed through part of the solar system hundreds of years ago.

Over time, gravitational influence of the planets, particularly giant Jupiter, pulls on the dust streams, causing variation in how many meteors we see each year. Researchers point to the position of streams from the comet’s visit in 1079, 1479 and 1862 in their predictions for a meteor outburst in 2016 with double the normal rate.

The usual advice for watching a meteor shower is to wait until between midnight and few hours before sunrise Friday morning to see the most meteors. That is still a great time to experience this shower, especially after the first quarter moon sets around 1:30 a.m.

However, this year, most predictions put the peak of the meteor shower about an hour before sunset on the East Coast Thursday night. This could make for some great meteor viewing in the more family-friendly evening hours after sunset.

Whenever you view them, take your time. Meteors often come in bunches. You may see a few dozen in a few minutes, you may not see any for few dozen minutes. The weather should be pleasant with temperatures in the upper 70s. Chances for rain are forecast to diminish by nightfall.

The darker the location, the more meteors you’ll see. If you are limited to your suburban backyard, you can still enjoy the show.

Turn out the porch light and look to the darkest part of your sky. Give you eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.

Jordan Lake’s Ebenezer Church Recreation Area is a surprisingly dark site not far from most of the Triangle. The Morehead Planetarium hosts a free skywatching session there from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m, gates open at 7:30 p.m.

The five naked-eye planets – Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter – are also visible now and volunteers from the Chapel Hill and Raleigh astronomy clubs will be there with telescopes to help you see them. Get to the sky watching event early.

Last year's Perseids drew record crowds.

Share your photos of the Perseids and you might be Mike Maze’s A-Maze-ing pic of the day.

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  • RB Redmond Aug 12, 2016
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    Tried to see them, but it was overcast here last night. Darn it.