The Perseid meteor shower is already recognized as the summer’s best shooting-star show, but this year it’s expected to be even better.
The Perseids peak every August as the Earth passes through a stream of dust and debris left by Swift-Tuttle, a comet that orbits the sun once every 133 years. When that debris enters our atmosphere each summer, it burns and creates meteors, otherwise known as shooting stars. This year there’s expected to be an influx of meteors due to an unusual “outburst” that only happens about once every decade.
“If you pass through an area of that stream that is more densely populated with that material, then that’s called an outburst,” York University astronomy and physics professor Paul Delaney told CTV News. That means you could see 150 to 200 meteors per hour during this year’s peak, compared to the usual 100 per hour.
“The rates could be up to … a couple every minute, maybe even three a minute if you’re camping or at the cottage, away from city lights. Dark skies are key to seeing lots of meteors,” Peter Brown, a professor with the Meteor Physics Group at Western University, told CBC News.
But it’s also important to know when to look up, and this year, that’s between midnight and sunrise on August 12th. Although it’s technically a few hours after the meteor shower’s official peak, Brown told reporters that “it’s far more important to be out when the moon is down in terms of the numbers you’ll see than whether you’re within an hour or two or four hours of the peak.”
If you’re not much of a nighthawk, or even an early riser, there are other chances to catch the show, too. Brown says you may be able to see meteors as early as 10 p.m. That’s when they’re entering the atmosphere at a shallow angle, which marks the shower’s official peak.
“They may last multiple seconds. And you’ll see them scoot over a good portion of the sky,” he says. Just make sure you give it some time. It can take up to 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to darkness, and the meteors tend to come in spurts, so keep your eyes on the sky, and (as always) put your smartphone away.