From late July to August 22, the sky will be alight as the Perseid meteor shower makes its annual appearance as one of the biggest light shows of the year.
2021 has been one of the best years to witness celestial wonders. Between the Quadrantid meteor shower in January, the meeting of Jupiter and Mercury in March, a supermoon, and multiple eclipses, stargazers have had plenty to keep themselves busy.
The Perseid meteor shower is the latest in this spectacular lineup, and it’s also one of the most accessible. While those with telescopes and a little bit of know-how could see the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter in conjunction this past July, anyone with a bit of time and patience can witness the hundreds of “shooting stars” that will be littering the night sky this month.
Though it peaked from August 11 to August 13, the shower still has much to offer. The best time to see it, experts say, is around 2 a.m. local time, somewhere where light pollution won’t obstruct the beams of light streaking across the sky. The Northern Hemisphere offers the best view of the show, and this year’s waxing moon won’t be bright enough to pose an issue. All in all, this year is the perfect chance to see the phenomenon.
The Perseid meteor shower was first discovered by Horace Tuttle and Lewis Swift in 1862. The “shooting stars” that can be seen from Earth actually come from the comet named after Tuttle and Swift. When debris from the comet enters Earth’s orbit, it quickly burns in the atmosphere as it falls, creating bright streaks of light that race across the night sky like strokes from a painter’s brush.
According to NASA, the Perseid meteor shower in particular is especially impressive as the meteors from the 109P/Swift-Tuttle comet tend to have large bursts, or “fireballs,” that burn longer than usual.
Tyler Leavitt, an amateur astronomer from Las Vegas, went the extra mile to see the shower and was rewarded with an amazing view and astounding pictures. “The air near Vegas was actually a bit hazy from the California wildfires,” Leavitt said, having traveled about 30 miles from the city to catch a better view. “As the night went along, I was able to see and capture more meteors. Counted 23 between 2 and 3 am.”
Experts suggest staying outside for at least 20 minutes before attempting to see the shower in order to allow your eyes to adjust; they also recommend allotting at least an hour to see it to its full potential—up to 40 meteors per hour can be seen in good conditions, but the “shooting stars” will fall sporadically and without warning.
If a little patience and clear skies are all it takes to see something so beautiful, though, I suppose we can’t complain.