Look northeast on the night of August 12/13 to see the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Credit: Roen Kelly / Astronomy Magazine If you ask most skygazers to name their favorite meteor shower, the odds are good that “Perseid” will be the first word out of their mouths. This annual shower seemingly has it all: It offers a consistently high rate of meteors year after year; it produces a higher percentage of bright ones than most other showers; it occurs in August when many people take summer vacation; and it happens at a time when nice weather and reasonable nighttime temperatures are common. No other major shower can boast all four of these attributes. And 2015 promises one more significant advantage: The shower peaks on the night of August 12/13, just one day before New Moon. With the Moon absent from the sky, observers under clear, dark skies can expect to see up to 100 “shooting stars” per hour, the maximum rate possible. Conditions haven’t been this good since 2010.
Although nature delivers the Perseids on a silver platter this year, that doesn’t mean you can just walk out the door and see a great show. First, to maximize the number of meteors visible, observe from a rural location without any nearby artificial lights. Battling city sky glow or a neighbor’s security light can wash out fainter meteors just as effectively as a bright Moon would. And the middle of a large field or a hilltop provides a panoramic view that will let you spy more meteors. Second, start viewing the shower after midnight, and keep watching until morning twilight begins. The after-midnight hours deliver more meteors because an observer then lies on the side of Earth facing forward in our planet’s orbit around the Sun. (It’s the same reason why a snowstorm looks much worse out of a moving car’s front windshield.)
The radiant — the point from which the meteors appear to originate — also climbs higher in the sky as dawn approaches. The Perseid radiant lies on the border between Cassiopeia and Perseus, with the latter constellation giving its name to the shower. All other things being equal, the higher the radiant, the more meteors you will see. For the best views of this shower, look about two-thirds of the way up from the horizon toward the northeast. But don't get tunnel vision staring at one location. Let your eyes wander so your peripheral vision can pick up meteors you otherwise might not see. If the weather forecast looks less than ideal for August 12/13, consider viewing the night before or after. Although you likely will see only about a third as many meteors as you would on the peak night, 30 meteors per hour is much better than zero.
This article originally appeared on Astronomy.com