Perseid Meteor Shower 2018

Perseid meteor, 2015-08-13

Tonight (August 12–13, 2018 UTC) the Perseid meteor shower will peak.  This meteor shower occurs every year around August 12th as the Earth passes through the orbit of debris from comet Swift-Tuttle.  This is one of the most reliable and intense meteor showers and, in ideal conditions (clear, dark sky and dark-adapted eyes) you may see a meteor a minute.  (As with everything, Pareto is on the job—there are many more dim meteors than bright ones.)

This year, the Moon will not interfere with observation, so there should be a good show.  Here is information about observing the Perseids.

It couldn’t be easier.  Any time after around 23:00 local time (the later the better, as the “radiant”—the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to come—rises higher in the sky) go out to a place as far as you can find away from street lights or other interference and look up toward the northeast.  Allow time for your eyes to dark-adapt.  Once you can see the Milky Way, you should be able to see the dimmer meteors.

Sometimes you’ll be lucky and see a bright fireball which leaves a persistent trail that lasts for several seconds.  Don’t expect this, however: the last one I saw was in 2015, as pictured above.

I’ll not be watching for Perseids tonight.  After a perfectly clear day, around the end of astronomical twilight clouds rolled in and completely obscured the sky.  The peak of the Perseids is broad, however, so if it’s clear I’ll try to-morrow.

If you have clear skies tonight, go out and have a look.  You need no equipment other than the Mark I eyeball and, if in skeeter country, a splash of DEET.

Clear skies!

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Author: John Walker

Founder of Ratburger.org, Autodesk, Inc., and Marinchip Systems. Author of The Hacker's Diet. Creator of www.fourmilab.ch.

10 thoughts on “Perseid Meteor Shower 2018”

  1. As it happens I’ll be out and about at 23:00 or so. Finding a dark place in my area requires a long drive so only the very brightest will be visible. At least skies are clear.

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  2. I will be counting sheep, not meteors, as I must arise for work at 04:20 EDT and won’t have time to look in my rush to arrive on time 45 minutes from home.

    BTW John – is it dark enough near you to actually see the Milky Way? It never is near me around Pittsburgh.

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  3. civil westman:
    BTW John – is it dark enough near you to actually see the Milky Way? It never is near me around Pittsburgh.

    Easily, as long as I get away from streetlights.  This is one of the benefits of living in cow country, where the “big city” is 20 km away and has a population of 34,000.

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  4. I am so grateful that you posted this. It totally answers my question about “what was going on in last night’s sky?”

    At around two Am this morning, Calif time, I took the dog and myself out for  walk.

    And there was this lit up area of the night sky to the northeast. To me, it appeared as if somebody had strung up a cat’s cradle in the heavens and illuminated it with Christmas lights. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but it was intense.

    I don’t know that I can get a better view of it on foot. The huge house next door which is opposite the tall forest allows only a  hallway of sky to be viewed from where I would get to stand. Now to get a better view while on foot, I would have to face a challenge. That would be to walk down to my neighbor’s land and enter his large meadow. However both the local bear and the local mountain lion have been known to patrol that environ after midnight. (Though they don’t patrol it together.)

    I guess what I should plan to do is take my car keys with me and drive on his property. I should see something spectacular, I know it. Last night, my view of  any falling stars would have been blocked by house or forest. That should change if I drive a bit further north.

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  5. I recently moved to a much darker neighborhood, and skywatching is better for me now. But the clouds are pretty thick this evening. This is typical for Memphis; we usually only get a decent look at the Perseids about one year in six or seven years.

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  6. Well, around 00:00 UTC, 2018-08-13, which is around 01:00 local solar time (for astronomy, one ignores socially-constructed silliness such as summer time), I went out and it had cleared, kinda.  There was a bit of haze, but I was able to pick out the Milky Way, albeit not easily.  I set up the camera pointing toward the radiant and started to take a sequence of 15 second exposures with my 30 year old Nikon 24 mm f/2.8 lens on a D600 camera at ISO 1600.

    While making exposures for about 45 minutes, I saw three meteors, one of which was bright and left a trail which persisted for about half a second.  It was nothing like the fireball shown at the top of the main post.  Although it appeared during an exposure, it was out of the frame.

    I caught several dim meteors—here are two.  Both show the usual pattern of brightening to a peak and dimming as they enter the atmosphere, heat, and burn up.

    I have been photographing Perseids for 40 years.  Unless you’re a fanatic and spend all night taking shots, you usually only get one like the one in the main post in a lifetime.  Most of them look like those below.  Because the field of view of cameras is limited, you’ll see more great meteors than you’ll ever photograph.  (Fish-eye lenses don’t help—they are slow [high f-stop numbers] and miss dim meteors.)

    Perseid meteor, 2018-08-13

    The above picture is intriguing.  Note that there are two meteors in it: one obvious in the centre and a second toward the bottom to its left.  If you draw a line through them, they’re exactly in line.  Were these two particles that fragmented and entered the atmosphere on parallel trajectories?  Or did a piece break off the original meteor as it hit the atmosphere and enter a moment later.  We’ll never know.  It was a 15 second exposure and it could have been two unrelated meteors several seconds apart.

    Perseid meteor, 2018-08-13

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  7. Maybe I was hallucinating or it was something else but I saw a bright streak across the right part of the sky at about 0:15 local (summer) time. I had made the back garden as dark as I could, figured out where I was supposed to be looking, and settled into a comfy chair. After that, nothing.

    The conditions were far from ideal: a bit of haze towards the NE, which also happens to be the direction of the urban center, resulting in quite a bit of scattered light. If this one streak was the real thing, it was the most spectacular thing I’ve seen in the night sky in quite a while. There’s probably a simpler explanation: a UFO.  😉

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  8. drlorentz:
    There’s probably a simpler explanation: a UFO.

    When I was taking my time exposures last night, I had three false signals: two airplanes and one Earth satellite.  These won’t fool your eye, as the motion is much slower, and on a photo the airplane can be spotted by the periodic navigation lights and the satellite because it doesn’t have the brightening, flare, and fade of a genuine meteor.

    No UFOs.

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