Another cosmic spectacle is on the cards and it promises to be majestic, if you’re lucky. The Perseids meteor shower will be seen on the night of 12th August (this Friday) continuing on till the wee hours of the morning of 13th August (Saturday). With the weekend falling right after the event, most shouldn’t have a problem with staying up one night.
The Perseids meteor shower is an annual feature. It occurs due to the debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle, named after their discoverers, Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle, who first encountered the comet in 1862. The comet has a 130 year long orbit period (i.e. it completes one orbit around the Sun in 130 years) and Earth passes through the trail of debris left by the comet sometime around this time of August every year. The last time the comet was spotted was in 1992.
What to expect and where to look in the sky
The spoilsports of the event are likely to be the clouds and the moon. So, even if you’re lucky to get very clear skies, you may be disappointed with the brilliance of the shower, given that it will occur very close to the bright full moon. The good news is that the moon will set about an hour or so after the peak, so there will be a short time window after moonset and sunrise, where the shower will be quite visible.
The Perseids will have its radiant at the Cassiopeia (image above), but was originally radiant about the Perseus constellation, hence the name. Cassiopeia will be almost right overhead and the meteor shower will seem to radially stream out from there. Cassiopeia will be easy to search out in the night sky, since it has the characteristic W’ positioning of the stars. We recommend a slightly tilted position a leaning chair will be comfortable for viewing. The moon will be towards the south-southwest position, so you can orient yourself, so that the moon is at your back.
The meteor shower is expected to peak at 2:00 AM and will be most intense from 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM. Perseids have a good reputation for the number of meteors seen per hour, with the highest number exceeding 90. Don’t expect such high numbers though, you’ll likely be disappointed. The average number is something like 20 streaks per hour. With the moon, the number might decrease slightly, as not all will be visible. However, the moon will set at about 4:00 AM at mid or high latitudes, so there will be an opportunity right after that, as mentioned above.
The Perseids have a broad time peak, meaning that the shower continues at its maximum value for quite a few days. So try Saturday night or even Thursday (i.e. today) night and you might be lucky.
If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re lucky; Southern Hemisphere won’t get nearly as spectacular a show.
Photographing the shower
For photography, you might try out long-exposure shots to get the trails of the comets. Since patience is the key, be ready to wait and take multiple attempts at capturing the showers. The bright and faint streaks will differ quite a lot in brightness and this will create problems for photos, especially the long-exposure ones.
As is always true with the heavens, no matter how spectacular an event might be, luck is the key to a good show. We wish you the very best of luck for a cloudless sky.
Happy meteor watching…