PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Perseid meteor shower is an astronomical highlight of the summer for many people — and it’s about to hit its peak.
Every summer, Perseid meteors fly across the sky between July and September, but they hit their peak shortly before mid-August. This year, astronomers expect the peak will occur on the night of August 11-12.
“We’re seeing the debris left behind by an apparent comet called Swift-Tuttle,” explained Jim Todd, director of space science education at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
He said ice particles and rocks that are often no larger than a grain of sand enter Earth’s atmosphere. They encounter friction and create plasma, which is the bright streak – either a meteor or shooting star – humans see flying across the sky.
Most are destroyed during entry, but the rare few that survive and hit Earth’s surface are known as meteorites.
The Perseid shower is named after the constellation Perseus, which the meteors appear to radiate from. Todd compared it to a shower head, and said if you follow the tail of a meteor backward, you’ll see it points toward Perseus.
Most years, at the Perseid meteor shower’s peak, people can see 60 to 100 meteors in an hour from a dark place, but those numbers might be a bit higher than what people can expect to see this week. That’s because of the full moon on Aug. 11.
The moon’s brightness could result in people seeing about 20% fewer meteors than they normally would, Todd explained.
If that’s the case, Todd said to keep watching the sky in the days after the peak. You may end up seeing more meteors as the moon wanes and becomes dimmer.
“Sometimes you’ll see more … two or three days later than you will see on the peak,” Todd said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to see the most on the 11th and 12th.”
The one convenient thing about the moon’s brightness is it means stargazers really won’t notice much of a difference spotting meteors if they stay in the city or venture out to the country. They’ll be difficult to spot either way.
For anyone hoping to capture photos of meteors in the sky, Todd recommended using a DSLR camera and setting it up with a long exposure of about 5 to 10 minutes. He said pointing it about 30 degrees northeast would be a good position to capture the sky. However, there is never a guarantee the timing or positioning will be right.
“It’s like going fishing. You put your line out, you just don’t know when you’re gonna catch it,” Todd said.
The bright moon will likely make some photos overexposed, he warned.