And lucky for us, one of those -- the Perseids -- peaks this week!
The Perseids come about every year from roughly July 17th thru August 24th as Earth passes through debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The peak of the shower occurs for a few days in mid-August each year, with this year’s peak activity expected during the early morning hours of August 11-13.
It’s during those peak times that the Perseids really put on a show.
A typical year brings roughly 45-75 meteors, or shooting stars, per hour to the night sky during the shower’s peak. Sometimes, though, the Perseids can really show off and produce upwards of 100+ meteors per hour. It’s important to remember that not all of these are will be seen by you as you watch. While looking up over the next few nights, we would say be ready to see upwards of 20-30 per hour in Alabama.
It’s not just the fact that there are so many meteors flying across the night sky that brings out the crowds each year; the Perseids are known for being particularly bright and fast-moving. According to EarthSky, they crash into Earth’s atmosphere at roughly 130,000 mph!
When you combine bright and fast, you get shooting stars that are known for leaving behind long tails of light and color! These are what make for the incredible photographs you see circulating social media and the Internet.
The Perseids appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus in the northeast sky. This means that the tails of these meteors all point back toward Perseus! You don’t necessarily need to find Perseus or any specific location in the sky, though.
The Perseids will be zipping across the entirety of the night sky!
All of this assumes that the skies are clear and the moon is non-existent to provide ample darkness while viewing. As we know, it’s sometimes difficult to predict cloud cover here in the South with daily pop-up thunderstorms.
Will any showers or storms linger into the evening and overnight? Will cloud cover break apart for some of us? As of now, it looks like there is a legitimate chance that skies will contain scattered to perhaps numerous clouds each night this week. It doesn’t look like it’ll be overcast for everyone each night, but we suggest checking satellite and radar before venturing out.
No one night stands out as “way better” than the others as it looks right now.
Then there’s the moon. Moonlight is one of the worst enemies of a meteor shower because it can wash out shooting stars as they zip across the night sky. Unfortunately for Montgomery and surrounding areas, the moon will cause some viewing issues. It will be at its third-quarter phase each night this week, meaning it’ll be about 50% illuminated.
While that isn’t ideal, it isn’t a deal-breaker for seeing shooting stars either. Using this chart, you can look at the moonrise and moonset times for the Montgomery area. You can also change the location at the top-right of the page.
Try venturing out after 9 p.m. and before the moon rises during the evenings/nights of August 10, 11 and 12. The graphic above paints a rough idea of the best times to view the Perseids without much moonlight in Central and South Alabama.
Other Things to Consider When Viewing the Perseids...
- Venture out away from city light pollution to a highly-elevated area to see above the tree line
- Give your eyes a solid 15-30 minutes to adjust to the darkness
- Avoid looking at your phone
- Don’t get frustrated or give up quickly; give yourself time to see the meteors!
- Don’t focus on the peak nights; the viewing is also worthwhile several days before and after the peak night
- Check the forecast constantly to get the latest cloud cover outlook
- When the moon rises, try to put it behind something like a building or large tree to avoid its light impacting your viewing