The Perseid Meteor Shower 2016
The Perseids are one of the most prolific and best-known of the meteor showers and the Perseid Meteor Shower can be seen in late July and through August each year, with the maximum Perseid meteor activity on or around 11/12/13 August. 2016 could see an outburst of meteors of approximately 200 per hour!
One advantage of the Perseids meteor shower is that it happens in the warmer weather of Summer, which makes it ideal for anyone interested in seeing their first meteor. You can see meteors at any time of year but, for a day or so around the date of Perseid maximum, there is a high chance of seeing one.
Meteors in a shower appear to come from a particular area of the sky, We call this area the radiant. The Perseid radiant is in the constellation of Perseus, just below the familiar ‘W’ of the constellation of Cassiopeia. In August this can be seen reasonably high in the north-eastern sky later in the evening.
The best direction to look for Perseids some say, is generally in the direction of the Square of Pegasus or the Plough (or Big Dipper) however, Perseid meteors appear randomly all over the sky so there really isn’t a particular direction to look in.
Just look up and fill your gaze with sky, A dark location away from lights will help. Seeing Perseid meteors is easier without a bright Moon, but it all depends on your local conditions – if it’s very hazy with light pollution you may have a better chance seeing meteors overhead than lower down. See the guide on how to observe meteors.
What to expect during the Perseid meteor shower
Even in quiet years Perseid rates can exceed 100 meteors per hour at maximum, as seen from a dark site with the radiant high in the sky. The Perseid rate tends to be highest towards dawn when the observer is on the side of the Earth moving directly into the trail of comet debris. In 2016 NASA scientists are predicting we could see an outburst of meteors of approximately 200 per hour as meteoroids from previous years are swept up!
Perseid Meteors tend to be brighter than most, so the shower is ideal for anyone wishing to see their first ‘shooting star‘. An observer watching early morning skies will almost certainly see several over a period of 30 minutes.
The density of the trail varies so the number of meteors can change in a matter of hours. It is always worth watching a few days or week or so either side of the Perseid maximum. A hazy summer evening with light pollution can obscure the fainter meteors and reduce the numbers you will see. Fortunately the Perseids tend to have a lot of bright meteors so there is still a very good chance of seeing some.
Some meteoroids originate from material ejected by comets passing through the inner solar system. The Perseids were the first meteor shower to be connected with a comet when astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli noted the relationship between their orbit and that of Comet Swift-Tuttle observed in 1862.
Swift-Tuttle orbits the Sun about every 135 years, Its last perihelion (the point where it is closest to the Sun) was in 1992 and the next is in 2126. The debris trail is thickest nearer the comet, so the Perseids were highly active in the early 1990s with several hundred meteors per hour at the annual maximum.
As the Earth crosses Swift-Tuttle’s orbit it sweeps up some of the debris released by the comet on previous orbits. This burns up in the atmosphere as a meteor, but the particles in the Perseids are much too small to reach the ground as a meteorite.
For more information on how to see Perseid Meteors and enjoy meteorwatch see this simple guide to viewing meteors and good luck