Authored onAugust 17, 2022
The summer’s premiere astronomical event, the Perseid meteor shower, runs from late July through late August, peaking around mid-August. Meteors are sand-grained-sized particles of space rock typically “melted” out of the icy nucleus of a comet. The melting occurs when the comet passes near the sun during its orbit around the solar system. The meteors are usually distributed along the orbital path of the comet and fall into the Earth’s atmosphere when we pass through the comet’s path. The comet associated with the Perseids is Comet Swift-Tuttle, first identified in 1862. It has an orbital period of about 120 years and was last seen in 1995.
This year, the August full moon coincided with the shower peak, washing out our view of the meteors. HOWEVER - there's still a chance! Though we're past the peak of the showers, you’ll still see them in decreasing numbers through the end of August.
You can improve your chance of seeing meteors by observing under clear, dark skies. That means away from city lights. Viewing under urban skies severely compromises what can be seen. If you can’t get away to a dark sky site, at least avoid brightly lit areas like parking lots, shopping centers, auto dealerships, etc.
Summer is always a great time to reconnect with the night sky. Now that you’ve run through all the streaming movies and done all the jigsaw puzzles, take some time to enjoy a sunset and then explore the universe as the sky darkens. It’s full of great things to see!
For more information about viewing meteor showers go to: http://www.amsmeteors.org/
For an online star map suitable for your laptop, try Stellarium web at: https://stellarium-web.org/
For your smartphone, download the Stellarium app from the App Store.
About the author
Derrick Pitts, Hon.D
For many Philadelphians, Derrick Pitts is The Franklin Institute. Since 1978, Derrick has been teaching us to look up—and to wonder about what we see up there.