Earth is on course to collide with a stream of particles left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle.These particles, which range in size from sand grains to pebbles, will hit Earth’s upper atmosphere at speeds of 130,000 miles per hour, and vaporize 50 miles above our heads. As they burn up, they produce the slivers of light streaking across the sky that we call the Perseid Meteor Shower.
Earth passes through this particle stream about the same date every year. This year the peak of the Perseid meteor shower is on August 12 at 6 p.m. (MDT). Typically, an observer away from city lights might see about 60 meteors per hour. Unfortunately, this year’s shower peaks two days after the full moon. That means moonlight will significantly interfere with observing the shower and decrease the number of meteors that can be seen. Next year in 2015, the peak will occur two days before new moon so there will be no interference from moonlight.
If you want to observe the shower through the moonlight where is the best place to look? Look up. While the meteors will appear to originate from the constellation Perseus in the northeast, they can be seen all over the sky. The best time to observe the shower is from about 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. (on the morning of the 13th) when Utah is facing into the meteor stream. If you cannot observe during those hours, do not despair, some meteors may still be visible as soon the sky is dark.
No equipment is needed to observe, so leave binoculars and telescopes at home. Meteor showers are best seen with the eyes alone, allowing you to observe as much of the sky as possible. However, a reclining lawn chair and insect repellant may help make the observing session more comfortable.