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Everything You Need to Know About the 2023 Perseid Meteor Shower, Which Peaks This Weekend
Where, when and how to see this year's Perseid meteor shower!
Approximately 66 million years ago, a bright point of light appeared in the sky. Slowly, unbeknownst to the creatures walking the Earth, that point of light grew larger until it streaked across the sky in a brilliant display of cosmic light. Then the world ended. It was the interplanetary punch that knocked the dinosaurs out for good. If you want to see dinosaurs these days, you'll have to do it at Jurassic Park.
One unfortunate consequence of intelligence is knowing that a space rock could come to close the curtain on us at any time. Fortunately, intelligence has also allowed us to get pretty good at detecting the planet-killing impactors, and even deflecting them a little. Any remaining interplanetary interlopers are mostly small enough to burn up in the atmosphere, and we've even gotten pretty good at predicting some of them. Which is how we know we're about to be treated to one of the best night-time light shows the solar system has to offer: the Perseid meteor shower.
What is the Perseids Meteor shower?
The Perseids are often regarded as the best meteor shower of the year, and they occur every July and August, like cosmic clockwork. In addition to being pretty, the warm weather in the Northern Hemisphere makes spending long night under dark skies a little more comfortable.
The Perseids are a gift left behind by the massive comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. As the 16-mile-wide comet circles the Sun on its 133-year orbital path, it leaves a trail of dust grains in its wake. Over time, the tail spreads out a little, leaving a diffuse field of dust and particles along its orbital path. That tail persists even when the comet itself is much farther away. And every year, in July and August, the Earth passes through the leftover debris. In a way, the meteors aren't slamming into us, we're slamming into them.
Most of what you see during the Perseids meteor shower are small bits of dust burning up in the atmosphere. Every so often, however, you'll get the chance to see a brilliant fireball, the result of slightly smaller particles. They stick around a little longer and leave brighter and more colorful streaks across the sky. The eagle-eyed observer might notice that the meteors appear to emerge from the constellation Perseus, which is where they get their name.
How to See the Perseids
In 2023, the Earth entered the Perseids debris field on July 17. Little bits of leftover comet are smashing into the atmosphere right now, as you read this, and we're about to hit the big show.
The shower will continue through August 24, with a peak on August 12 and 13. When we hit the peak this weekend, you could see up to 90 meteors an hour.
The Perseids can be observed from anywhere on Earth, but the best views are in the Northern Hemisphere, where the constellation Perseus is visible. To find Perseus, look for the W-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia. The triangle formed by the left half of the W points to Perseus, in roughly the same location as Andromeda. That said, finding Perseus isn't totally necessary. All you really need to do is look up and wait.
It's possible to see the Perseids as early as 10:00 p.m., but the best time to catch them is in the early morning, a few hours before the Sun comes up. To get the biggest bang for your buck, so to speak, plan your skywatching session for the week before or after the August peak (that's right now). You'll be able to see meteors no matter where you are, but if you have access to a location away from city lights and clear skies, that certainly won't hurt.
When you're tired of watching the skies, come back inside and revisit Jurassic Park!