Pursue the Perseids tonight!

By Phil Plait | August 12, 2010 11:00 am

netherlands_meteorThe next couple of nights bring us one of the best meteor showers of the year: the Perseids. It peaks around mid-August — this year the peak is tonight, Thursday August 12 — when the Earth plows through the debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle. This year should be pretty good, as the Moon sets early, and won’t interfere with seeing fainter meteors.

If you don’t think the Perseids will be cool, then watch this:

Love it! Want more info?

Back in 2007 I wrote up a brief guide on how to observe the Perseids, and it’s still pretty much apropos of the shower this year (just replace "Sunday" with whatever day you’re observing). The most important things: the later you go out, the better since the shower really peaks after midnight; you need a clear view of as much of the sky as possible; and you don’t need any equipment, but I recommend a lounge chair to lie back on.

Other sites are covering this as well, of course:

– Wanna chat about the meteors? NASA is hosting a live chat Thursday night/Friday morning (Aug 12/13)!
Universe Today
Tom’s Astronomy Blog

So get out there and enjoy the shower!

MORE ABOUT: meteor shower, Perseids

Comments (53)

Links to this Post

  1. The Perseids are Here! « Waxing Apocalyptic | August 12, 2010
  1. AstroChickLea

    Phil, i just wanted to say that you’ve inspired me into taking more interest in Astronomy. Im 20 and i’ve visited your blog basicially every day. Im really glad you’ve done a post of the perseids as i was waiting for one :) I really hope i get to see them (in the UK) as this will be my first time. Thanks again. :))

  2. Messier Tidy Upper

    Here’s another good source of info where the Perseids & meteor showers generally are concerned :


    Clear skies y’all! :-)

  3. Glencoe

    I’m camping out tonight at a dark sky site to try and get a good view. Weather looks good, so fingers crossed!

  4. The Perseids hardly ever put in appearance whenever I stay up late to watch them. I’m starting to take it personally.


    Oh smeg! It’s smegging cloudy tonight, here in the south of England. ūüėź

  6. Cloudy around Boston tonight, too.

    Another bit of equipment to bring: a blanket, if you’re in a cooler clime.

  7. Gus Snarp

    Alright, so with an infant in the house, I don’t really stand a chance at getting away from the streetlights on the fringe of a good sized American city. Is it at all worth my while to stay up and try to see something, or will it all be completely washed out?

  8. CaptTu

    This time last year I was on vacation at Yosemite. We did one of the park’s sky watch sessions and were treated to more meteor streaks than I could count. The poor guide was trying to point out the constellations and various stars in the sky, and was constantly drowned out by the crowd on hand. About every minute or so, the crowd would ooh and ahh over the another streaking meteor and interrupt his talk. I think they ( like me ) were more interested in just watching the meteor shower than they were being shown the constellations.

  9. Technically, the shower should peak after 1am DST local time, midnight standard time, when your location turns into the direction of the stream.

  10. @GusSnarp

    Depends. You could see a few. Several years ago I stayed up to see ’em and managed to catch a handful on an off-peak night, despite the nearness of a large metropolis. I was watching for probably around an hour or so.

  11. I went out last night, between 12:30 and 1:30 AM, here in Squamish, just north of Vancouver. I only saw about 6 in the hour I was out, but the stars were amazingly brilliant, and the bright band of the Milky Way was stunning! Hopefully the sky will clear for tonight, and I’ll be back out there! I remember, when I was in my preteen and teen years, sleeping out on the balcony of our home to watch the show.

  12. Figures… Current forecast is for 100% cloud cover all night. :-(

  13. CW

    Anyone know how fast the meteors are traveling across the sky?

  14. Adrienne

    Don’t forget the Twitter #meteorwatch to report your observations (or be notified when it peaks!)

  15. Cz-David

    Too bad, I have been looking forward to this for weeks. And its cloudy over central Europe. I am planing to go to the mountains on 14th. Hope I will see something.


    @CW (#14),

    The Earth’s orbital velocity is 29.78 km/s (18.5 miles per second); meteoroids travel around the Sun in a variety of orbits and at various velocities — the fastest ones move at about 42 km/s (26 miles per second) through space in the vicinity of Earth’s orbit. Thus, when meteoroids meet the Earth’s atmosphere head-on, which would only occur if the meteor were in a retrograde orbit, the combined speed may reach up to 72 km/s (45 miles per second).

  17. CW

    Thanks Ivan3Man!

  18. Michel

    It¬īs august. Summer. And here I am at Menorca… clouded and rain predicted for later in the night. It ain¬īt right.


    UPDATE: At the time of writing, the skies here in London, U.K., have cleared up — WOOHOO!

    P.S. You’re welcome, CW!


    RE: “… if the meteor were in a retrograde orbit,…”

    That should be plural meteors, not singular “meteor”. Nuts!

  21. Darth Wader

    So since rain dances are bunk I guess that mean that the opposite: drought dances must work. I guess I’m going to put on a loin cloth, bang a drum and seriously worry my neighbors.

  22. mrthumbtack

    50% Chance of Rain
    65% Cloud cover

    So disappointed.

  23. Skies have cleared In the Vancouver region.

  24. Program note – we are broadcasting live updates of MeteorWatch on Astronomy.FM Radio (AFM*Radio – http://Astronomy.FM/Rad), including live updates from the MeteorWatch crew in their Astro Bunker, and from other observatories around the world.

    ~Michael Foerster
    Program Director / AFM*Radio

  25. Adrian West from Newbury Astronomy Society is real good making those trailers!

    you can follow him on Twitter @NewburyAS

    Good Perseid hunting tonight!

  26. JMW

    Not apropos of the Perseids, but tonight at about 8:40 Eastern, I left my house in Eastern Ottawa to go pick up my son at his girlfriend’s, and as I came around a curve in the road, I saw the crescent Moon low on the horizon, with what I believe to be Venus about 15 or 20 degrees higher in the sky. It did not have any of the technical beauties of the photos you post from observatories, but it was still quite beautiful. I hope someone in your far-flung community of contributors, amateur astronomers, etc., managed to capture it, as by the time I got home the Moon had set.

    Enjoy the show tonight!

  27. Totally overcast in New Hampshire right now… FML

  28. Cindy

    Cloudy and drizzling here in NJ.

    Wish the Perseids were last week when I was up in the Lakes region of NH and had nice dark skies.

  29. Mark P.

    Nice clear skies here in Guelph (Southern Ontario). Seen three great fairly bright grazers so far in 20 minutes and it’s not even midnight. Going in to watch a movie to pass some time for now. Lawn chairs and camera are all set up.

    Hope for a great show later!!

  30. Jack Mitcham

    Huge rainstorms coming through the Baltimore area tonight. C’est la vie.

  31. Crystal clear sky’s her in CA.Can’t wait till later tonite,already saw one KILLER metorite.

  32. Messier Tidy Upper

    It was totally overcast in Adelaide, South Oz, overnight. I’m certainly NOT living anywhere near the best location for viewing the Perseids even under the best of conditions but with it being our winter and pretty cloudy lately it’s not promising. Maybe it’ll be clear tonight / tomorrow morn – But I don’t like my chances. :-(

    Still its worth keeping an eye out for. I love spotting meteors and its one of the special – and democratically easily accessible – nice surprises of astronomy. Meteors are natures random fireworks – along with lightning & catching a bright or even faint example of a “shooting stars” seems somehow special. That a speck of dust, maybe at most the size of a pebble or a single pea but more probably onlty the size of a single grain of salt or even smaller, that has been travelling our solar system for who knows how long; that was once probably part of cometary surface and then a comet’s tail, has perhaps been part of the zodiacal light maybe for hundreds of millions of years – or maybe just for a decade or two – has now drifted into our uppermost atmosphere and blazed out of existence in a brilliant if brief glow, that you (or me or her or him) have just happened to glance up at and spot at precisely the right second. There’s just something about that that really appeals to me. :-)

  33. Luke

    Usually excellent NH sky was overcast. Blaaaaah.

  34. Michel

    All night clouded and now a beautiful morning. Sun shining, blue skies.
    However it will be cloudy again tonight.

  35. XPT

    Sigh! It’s overcast and rainy where I live… after weeks of clear days.

    Great trailer btw.

  36. Bouch

    As expected, at 11:00 last night, my wife and I walked out side, looked up, and saw nothing but rain coming down at us… Ugh.

  37. Bob

    Big fail in North Olmsted – nothing seen. 2300 and at 0400.

    Light pollution? Upper clouds? Don’t know – saw plenty of stars, and one sat.

    was upset – now I am tired for no good reason…

    and on Friday the 13th… ugh.. can’t outrun killers now…

  38. rob

    i went out last night ~midnight.

    cloudy. windy. awesome lightning, but no meteors for me. sad face.

  39. Jeff

    yes, I counted 50 Perseid meteors one hour in 1993 in Florida Keys. I’m sure it hasn’t changed at all. The key is dark skies, and yes, after midnight is best.

    But I have a rant against light pollution. I frequently have student questions about meteor showers and frequently tell them not to bother unless they have a dark sky. and that is hard to find around the cities. One night in 2005 a hurricane knocked out the city lights of Ft. Lauderdale, and for the first time in decades, I could see the Andromeda galaxy easily with naked eye. And one young guy came up to me and told me he’d never seen the sky really before.

    I am a luddite at heart. You could chuck all the technology, lights, and computers, and I’d be very much happier. I was born a few 10,000s of years too late in history. Because what I realize in my old age is simply this: nothing is as satisfying or beautiful as what nature herself has created. All the inventions of mankind are ugly in comparison, they really are; and someday, all these computer keyboards and CPUs will be rotting , rusting, pieces of debris .

  40. Tom

    I’m gonna have to go ahead and halfway disagree with the best time to view them, Phil.

    After midnight in the early hours of the morning is indeed great for seeing sheer number of meteors as that side of the Earth plows ever more directly into the debris field. However, some of the most spectacular ones are the Earthgrazers that can create very long brilliant streaks across the entire sky, which is more likely to happen earlier on in the night when the radiant is at a lower altitude, though they occur less often.

    Of course, the REAL solution is to just stay out from dusk to dawn and watch them all!
    (Unfortunately, the forecast for Minnesota has been terrible, though I did manage to see a handful on the 11th, but probably won’t see any more of the shower)

  41. Jearley

    Conditions were perfect here in Southern Oregon. Calm, clear, warm night. Got up at 2am, and went out. Due to trees, I could see only abut 1/3 of the sky, but the Double Cluster and M31 were nicely framed in the sky, and I sat back to watch. I saw about 1 faint meteor per minute (including 2 sporadics) over half and hour, so I would guess that a full sky count might have been around 100 or so. No big fireballs this time. I’ll look again tonight. I stopped counting after a while, and enjoyed the show.
    The good weather did not quite make up for last fall winter and spring when we had essentially no good nights!

  42. Scott

    It was too cloudy last night for me to see anything. :(

  43. Fernando Ayil

    Mr. Plait
    I try to check out your blog every day. I am part of an astronomy group here in Merida, Mexico (near Cancun!) named Cosmonavis, and we enjoy to make some public observations with our scopes, also trying to make some divulgation among the people of the city and nearer towns. I like your articles so much, You have a great way to explain this concepts so we (ordinary mortals) can understand. I wonder if I could have your authorization to translate your 2007 guide for meteor shower observing for my group. Of course with the citation of the source and the corresponding credit to You. Also, I could send to You a copy of the translation.
    Thanks in advance and congratulations for your work.

  44. Timothy from Boulder

    With a tree-obscured-perimeter view from my back yard I saw less than the typical 60/hour, but was treated to a series of 4 directly overhead in a span of about 30 seconds.

    Very relaxing to lie on a blanket on squishy grass in the dark and stare at the heavens. I’ve made a note to do that more often.

  45. Chris A.

    Spectacularly clear skies in southern Idaho, USA, last night/this morning. Got out in the desert atop a butte, with unobstructed horizons, well away from lights. Didn’t attempt a count, but watched from 22:15 to 04:00 local, and saw a nice show. Quite a few with distinct colors, including lots of yellows, a few red-oranges, and one or two blue-greens. Also saw an almost-point meteor (nearly head on flight path) near the radiant.

  46. Daniel J. Andrews

    Saw a nice one while out walking on a country road. At first I thought it was an airplane on its usual approach towards the local airport. It was bright, moving ‘slowly’ (relative to my position) and I almost ignored it. When I looked up I was astounded that it wasn’t a plane, and delighted I was seeing a meteor so bright. The slow moving appearance was probably because it was heading towards or away from me so it didn’t move across the sky in a quick streak–wasn’t as point on as Chris’ (47) was, but enough of an angle to see slow movement.

  47. Many thanks for putting the trailer on your blog. This year has been amazing so there will be more trailers, more meteorwatches and more explosions :)

    Many thanks

  48. Messier Tidy Upper

    I second the thanks for that trailer. Nice work. It should be screening in cinemas this week .. :-)

    Hope others are having better fortune and weather than I am. Been wet, gloomy, overcast and cold (well by South Australian standards) all week. Not a single star spotted* for many nights let alone any Perseids. :-(

    * Well almost, I did get breif glimpses of the Moon and Venus at times through the cloud – but that’s all.

  49. Sili

    Been overcast here for days unfortunately.

  50. Nigel Depledge

    Cloudy here too.


  51. Nate

    I was on a red eye flight during the shower. The pilot said that the view from the cockpit was amazing, unfortunately there was too much light in the cabin to really see anything. It made me think of a previous post with the guy who followed the eclipse in an airplane. Someone needs to make a glass topped plane and do astronomical tours. You could fly above the weather, and travel to a location with low light pollution.


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