One of the most reliable and memorable meteor showers of the year will peak on August 12. That’s when the Earth will collide with a stream of particles left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. While these particles will hit Earth’s upper atmosphere at speeds of 130,000 miles per hour, there is no need for Earthlings to worry. These particles, which range in size from sand grains to pebbles, will 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 every year about August 12. This year the peak of the Perseid meteor shower is August 12 at 6 p.m. MDT, only a few hours before nightfall. An observer away from city lights might see about 60 meteors per hour. Early morning observers can also see the planet Jupiter in the south-eastern sky. A thin crescent moon sets before 10 p.m., so moonlight will not interfere with observing the shower this year.
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 will still be visible as soon as the sky is dark.
The most important aspect of observing a meteor shower is to be away from city lights. No equipment is needed to observe, so leave the telescope at home. Meteor showers are best seen with the eyes alone, taking in as much of the sky as possible. However, a reclining lawn chair and mosquito repellant may help make the observing session more comfortable.