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Perseid Meteor Shower: Peak Dates Over Washington

Patch logo Patch 8/4/2021 Charles Woodman
a man standing on top of a hill: For the best chances to see Perseid meteors, find a dark sky in Washington during the Aug. 11-13 peak. The meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus as Earth plows through debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle. © Ethan Miller/Getty Images, File For the best chances to see Perseid meteors, find a dark sky in Washington during the Aug. 11-13 peak. The meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus as Earth plows through debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle.

SEATTLE — If you catch only one meteor shower this year, make it the fireball-producing Perseids, which offer the perfect excuse to head to a dark sky park in Washington and spend the night peering into the infinite dark.

The Perseid meteor shower continues through Aug. 24, peaking on the mornings of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Aug. 11-13.

Here are some quick key facts for you meteor-lovers:

  • The Perseids reliably fire at a rate of about 60 an hour but can produce around 100 per hour in bursts.
  • Perseids are known for bright, persistent trains.
  • A waxing crescent moon — the first phase after the new moon — won’t offer much interference. Only 10 percent of the surface is illuminated in this phase.
  • The best time to see meteors from this show are the hours between midnight and dawn during the peak dates — but don’t rule out skywatching in the days before and after the peak.

“The Perseids are rich in fireballs, so they’ll be bright,” NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com.

Make A Plan

To make the most of watching the Perseid meteor shower, get as far away as possible from city lights. EarthSky.org maintains a database of the best places to stargaze. Its suggestions for Washington stargazers include Overlook Point Park in Tumwater, Olympic National Park and Moses Lake.

Meteor shower watching requires a time commitment. Give your eyes 20 or so minutes to adjust to the dark, then plan to spend at least an hour under the skies.

Related: 2021 Guide To Meteor Showers And Supermoons

If you can, take along a reclining lawn chair so you’ll be positioned to take in as much of the sky as possible. Blankets to lie on — and possibly to cover up with, depending on overnight temperatures — are a good idea. Also, think about an insulated bottle to keep your coffee or hot chocolate warm, plus snacks.

While you’ll probably want to take your cell phone along, keep it closed to avoid light pollution.

“The bright screen can throw a wrench in your efforts to adjust your night vision,” Cooke told Space.com. “My suggestion to my friends who want to observe meteors is, leave your phone inside.”

What Are Meteors?

When meteoroids — objects in space that range in size from a grain of dust to small asteroids — enter the Earth’s atmosphere (or another planet’s) at a high rate of speed, they burn up and create the flashes of light we call meteors or shooting stars, according to NASA.

Don’t confuse meteors, meteorites and meteoroids. Meteoroids that survive the trip through the atmosphere and hit the ground are called meteorites. Between 90 and 95 percent of meteors burn up in the atmosphere, so it’s highly unlikely skywatchers will find meteorites lying on the ground.

The Perseid meteor shower occurs as Earth plows through debris left behind by 109P/Swift-Tuttle, a comet that won’t return to Earth’s solar system until 2125.

Cooke told Space.com Perseid meteors are an ice-dust mix and “very fragile.”

“They are not strong enough to survive passage through the atmosphere at 132,000 mph and so never produce meteorites — they are totally vaporized by the time they make it to 50 miles altitude,” he said.

Where To Look

The constellation Perseus the Hero is the radiant point of the shower. Don’t worry too much about finding the radiant point. You can see Perseid meteors anywhere in the sky.

Perseus, the 24th largest of the constellations in the sky, was first cataloged by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century. The constellation has eight named stars officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union: Algol, Atik, Berehinya, Menkib, Miram, Mirfak, Misam and Muspelheim.

In Greek mythology, Perseus the son of the god Zeus and the mortal Danaë. In his most famous adventure he slew Medusa, later using her severed head in other adventures, including rescuing the Aethiopian princess Andromeda from the sea monster Cetus. He did not slay the Kraken, which is good otherwise the Seattle Kraken might have something to say about that.

Patch Staffer Beth Dalbey contributed to this report.

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