The Perseids are coming… but so's the Moon

By Phil Plait | August 8, 2011 12:00 pm

Every year around August 12/13th, the Perseid meteor shower peaks. It’s a fairly reliable shower that generates 60 or more meteors per hour. Unfortunately, this year the Moon is full at that time, washing out the sky and any fainter shooting stars.

Still, it may be worth a shot for you. Meteor Showers Online has some info on the event, and I wrote a post a while back on how to watch meteor showers that still works.

Last year, photographer Siddhartha Saha shot a nice time lapse video of the Perseids:

At 10 seconds in, one of the meteors leaves what’s called a persistent train; a streak of vaporized material that sits in the upper atmosphere and glows. You can see the winds whipping it into a twisted shape. I’ve never seen this happen myself, but one day…

If you miss the Perseids, don’t fret: there are plenty of others this year. The Leonids and Geminids are also good performers. And any dark night will generally have a few to spot, just random pieces of fluff that hit us all the time. It adds up to about 100 tons of material a day burning up in our atmosphere, so why not go outside and see if you can spot any?

Related posts:

12 things you need to know to watch the Perseid meteors
Pursuing Perseids
Mesmerizing Perseid time lapse video
New meteor shower points to a future close encounter

em>Tip o’ the Whipple Shield to BABloggee Anu R for the link to the video.

MORE ABOUT: meteor shower, Perseids

Comments (18)

  1. Don´t Panic

    I´m totally ready for them!

    However. This summer the North Pole seems to be warmer than The Netherlands…
    (it´s dutch but transgoogle it…)


  2. Saw a persistent train just two weeks ago whilst camping in Essex, England… glowed yellowy-green for about two minutes before fading… few people with me did not recognise how rare an event it was…

  3. Dan

    I heard the scorpiids in October are going to be just insane contrary to their usual appearances. Know anything to confirm or deny that?

  4. CB

    Stupid moon!

    Heh, actually, as I try to find decent targets for my telescope in my light-polluted driveway, the moon has turned into one of my favorite things to look at. Looking at the night/day boundary on the moon, with the craters cast into sharp relief, is pretty amazing!

  5. JBL

    Thank you for explaining persistent trains. I saw a short zig-zaggy (sorry for the technical jargon) green glowing line while watching for Perseids a couple of years ago. The amplitude of the zig zag was considerable given the overall length of the effect and I was at a loss as to what it might be. I was tempted to think I had imagined it but my wife saw it too.

  6. Messier Tidy Upper

    @3. Dan :

    I heard the scorpiids in October are going to be just insane contrary to their usual appearances. Know anything to confirm or deny that?

    I can’t seem to find much about them. Meteor showers online (linked by the BA above here) doesn’t have them listed at all under the October monthly page. It only seems to have this :

    on the Chi & Omega Scorpiids in different months.

    This site :

    lists a number of upcoming meteor showers but nothing matching the description. The Alpha Scorpiids perhaps at a stretch but again wrong month – April.

    Perhaps the closest thing I could find was this :

    Although you need to be a subscriber to get more info and, again, wrong months. June & May – and from 2009.

    Sorry but that’s the best my preliminary google search could turn up. Hopefully I’m missing something and there’s more & better info. out there somewhere for you.

  7. @ 2. Talith:
    Persistent trains are not really that rare.
    @ 3. Dan:
    I think you are confused with the Draconids, in the evening of October 8th. They will probably provide at least Perseid-like rates, with some possibility of much more spectacular rates into the hundreds an hour, depending on which model you believe, and also on where on earth you are as the event lasts only a few hours (best place to be this year is Europe). They are beautiful very slow meteors, best seen early in the evening just after twilight ends when the radiant is still high. Their “normal” activity is very low, at best 2 meteors/hr but this year earth comes close to a more concentrated part of the dust-trail left by it’s parent 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.

  8. @ 3. Dan again:

    Some more info on the 2011 October Draconids here:

  9. jearley

    The Perseids have already started some activity. Given the moonlight this year, I got up early this morning to watch, after the moon had set (perfect conditions- 9200′ , observatory site), and saw a few, including one nice bright one.

  10. kurt_eh

    It’s probably just confirmation bias, but it seems every time there’s a meteor shower, we get lousy weather!

  11. Ryan H

    Back in 1999 I was up to watch the Leonids (hoping for a repeat of the ’66 storm) and saw almost a dozen persistent trails in the course of 90 minutes. Didn’t know what they were at the time but they were very impressive. Most had a wonderful, eerie green glow to them.

  12. Messier Tidy Upper

    @10. kurt_eh : We call that “Murphy’s law” :

    here in Oz! 😉

    Yeah, it’s always the way isn’t it? Last month or three ago, I got up extra early every morning just to see a planetary conjunction – every morning for about four or five pre-dawns in a row it was totally overcast, then the same thing happened with all but the very last opportunity to see the docked Atlantis-ISS pair passes too, so I can totally relate to that. :-(

    @ 7. & 8 Marco Langbroek : Thanks – that would make sense. :-)

    Although Murphy’s law strikes again, you can’t see Draco from Adelaide, South Oz.

  13. Musical Lottie

    Thanks to this post, your links, and a clear night, last night my sister and I had our first stargazing session. We saw quite a few meteors, which was very exciting as we’ve never seen any before, and despite not even having binoculars we were blown away by how much we could see with the naked eye.

    Usually when I read or hear about an upcoming meteor shower, I completely forget or am not in a position to attempt to watch. This time I knew I’d forget by the 12th so I decided to try to see some pre-peak activity, and it was just brilliant. So thank you for this post!

  14. So, does anyone ever point telescopes at the Moon during the meteor showers, and catch something hitting it?

  15. rob

    the video of the Perseids on Mount Ranier is cool!

    but that stupid vertical expanse of dust and stars kinda ruins the view…


  16. Ian

    You can see the headlamps of the climbers as they make their push for the summit in that video. The string of headlamps are climbers that are on the Disappointment Cleaver route (the main route) but you can see one or two headlamps to the right at the top of the Inter-Glacier (triangle of rock) and they are probably climbing the Emmons Glacier route.

    Very awesome.

  17. Graeme

    Back in 99 when I stayed up all night to watch the Leonids, during the peak there were multiple meteors per second. Persistent trails were frequent. The really odd thing was the noise that they made – lots of hissing and popping. I understand that at that altitude the sound would take quite a while to reach the ground, but it was instantaneous. I read in Astronomy magazine that the sound might actually be radio frequency emissions, that we somehow percieve as sound. Either way, we all confirmed what we heard (there were 5 of us). Truly a breathtaking event that I will remember as one of the most amazing sights I will probably ever witness.


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