What is it, when is it and where can I see the Perseid Meteor shower this year? Astronomer Tom Kerrs tell you how you can see this meteoric marvel.     

What is the Perseid meteor shower?

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the brightest and most active meteor showers in the year. It occurs in July and August in the Northern hemisphere making it a summer shower and one of the most popular.

In dark, rural locations visible Perseid rates can reach 50-100 meteors per hour. The meteors are relatively fast moving - entering the Earth's atmosphere at speeds of 36 miles per second - but are known to produce trails which linger for a while.

Meteor showers are caused when the Earth travels through a cloud of cometary debris. In this case, the Perseid meteor shower comes from the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids were the first meteor shower to be connected to a comet when astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli noted the similarity between their orbit and the Comet Swift-Tuttle observed in 1862.

Find out the difference between an asteroid, a comet, a meteor, and a meteorite.



When is the Perseid meteor shower?

The Perseids occur between July and August each year, with a peak in early-mid August.

Shower Name

Date of Maximum

Normal Limits

Rate/Hour

Description

Perseids

Aug 12-13

July 23-Aug 20

75

Many bright fast meteors with trains. Associated with Comet Swift-Tuttle (1737, 1862, 1992)

Find out more about other meteors and meteorites around the year

What time is best to see it?

Like everything in the night sky, the absolute best time to be looking is when the sky is darkest. This occurs around midnight and during the very earliest hours of the morning.

12 midnight – 05:30am

If the moon is visible above the horizon, its light will interfere, blotting out the fainter meteors. In 2017, a waning gibbous moon will brighten up the sky after midnight making the meteors harder to see.

On a given night, it’s usually best to be out after the moon sets, or before it rises. Most importantly, every meteor shower has a sharp peak in activity, which typically lasts for no more than a few hours. All other circumstances aside, this is the time you shouldn’t miss! If the peak occurs during your local daylight hours, be sure to put aside two nights either side.

Photo of star-gazing
Solitude under the stars - the best company by Yuri Zvezdny

Where can I see it?

Meteor showers are best seen with a good, clear view of the stars on a night with no clouds. Try to find somewhere with dark skies, an unobstructed horizon and very little light pollution

Make sure there are no direct sources of light in your eyes, so that you can fully adapt to the local conditions and ensure that fainter meteors become visible. There’s no advantage to using binoculars or a telescope; just look up with your own eyes to take in the widest possible view of the sky

How do you pronounce Perseid?

  • Perseid is pronounced Per-see-id
  • The combined speed of our planet and incoming meteoroid particles can vary from anywhere between 7- 45 miles per second.
  • The Perseids were the first meteor shower to be connected to a comet when astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli noted the similarity between their orbit and the Comet Swift-Tuttle observed in 1862.
  • The meteor shower’s point of apparent origin lies within the constellation of Perseus, and ‘Perseids’ derives from the Greek word ‘Perseides’, referring to ‘the sons of Perseus’ in Greek mythology.
  • In some Catholic traditions, the Perseids is also known as ‘the tears of St Lawrence’, due to its peak roughly coinciding with the date which the Saint achieved martyrdom.
  • The Perseids is also associated with the god Priapus, who was believed by the Romans to have fertilized the fields by ejaculating on them once a year on the date the shower peaks.

Perseid Meteor Shower Peak August 2017 - your photos