The Perseid is the most gifted Meteor Shower of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. The Perseid offers a consistently high rate of meteors every year (up to 100 meteors per hour) and it occurs in August when the temperatures are usually nice enough for a night under the stars!
What is it?
Every year, the dust particles from the tail of the Swift-Tuttle comet pass the Earth orbit and burn in our atmosphere (about 70 miles / 110km above us) from mid-July to the end of August. The meteors are in fact glowing columns of air resulting from the burn of these particles. When the dust and ice hits our atmosphere at around 37 miles / second (59km/s) they disintegrate high up in the atmosphere after making a brilliant flash of light. Most of these particles are the size of sand grains, while a few are as big as peas. They can streak across the sky in a flash, or persist for several seconds before vanishing. Meteor Showers peak, or reach maximum, at the same time each year.
Meteor Showers are named for the constellation out of which they seem to come. Because all of the particles are moving in roughly the same direction, the meteors which strike our atmosphere all “point” back to the direction of the comet’s path. This point in the sky is called the Meteor Shower Radiant. The Perseids appear to come from a point next to the constellation of Perseus. Perseids can be seen anywhere in the sky, but the direction of motion, when traced back, will point to a point next to the Perseus constellation.
While meteor shower observing requires no specific astronomical equipment, comfort is everything. Bring a lawn chair, a blanket, warm clothes and a bottle of water (or whatever you like to drink – a warm drink can help if it’s chilly outside). No need to use of binoculars or telescopes: they restrict your field of view. If you want to take pictures, take 5s to 15s exposures: longer exposures will make your piece of art blurry (Don’t forget the stars are “moving” in the sky!)
Pick a nice spot away from light pollution. We prefer isolated locations (beaches, mountains, parks, etc.). Try to avoid distraction like music, and don’t forget to switch off your cell phone!
Where to look?
The most important: try to turn away from the moon and any source of light pollution. The darker the skies are, the easier it will be to see meteors. This year, the waning crescent moon rises shortly before sunrise will not obtrude the show so you can watch pretty much every direction.
Look about two-thirds away up to the sky to avoid light pollution over the horizon. It’s also the most comfortable to lie in a lawn chair so your neck does not become strained. If the ground is dry lying on a blanket is another option. During the best hour for observing the Perseids this year, you’ll have to look North/East to find the Perseus constellation. It may be easier to find Cassiopeia first (the constellation that looks like a “W”): Perseus is right next to it. Again, you don’t need to watch the Meteor Shower Radiant to see meteors; it’s just a good landmark for your observation session.
As Earth rotates, the side facing the direction of its orbit around the Sun tends to scoop up more space debris. This part of the sky is directly overhead at dawn. For this reason, the Perseids are usually best viewed in the predawn hours. The 2015 Perseid meteor shower will probably feature a good show on in the predawn hours of August 11, 12, 13 and 14, with the nod going to the morning of August 13.
– Vincent Perlerin & Robert Lunsford