The annual Perseid Meteor Shower is one of the more dazzling celestial displays visible from Earth - and it's set to peak in the Southern Hemisphere tonight. If you're keen to catch the event live, here are the best times in Australia, along with some expert viewing and photography tips.
First, the bad news: the Perseid Meteor Shower is a bit of a difficult one to spot in Australia as the radiant doesn't rise very far above the horizon in the Southern hemisphere. With that said, it's still worth staying up for. If the gods gift us with clear skies and you're in the right location, you can expect to see as many as 150 meteors or 'shooting stars' per hour.
What is the Perseid Meteor Shower?
The Perseid Meteor Shower is the legacy of the Swift-Tuttle Comet, which at 26km across is the largest object to regularly pass the Earth. The meteors in this shower seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus, giving it its name. The Earth passes through the debris from Swift-Tuttle in the period between July 17 and August 24, but the meteor shower doesn't reach its peak until August 13/14. During this short window, stargazers should be able to spot plenty of action in the night sky.
When is the Perseid Meteor Shower?
Assuming the weather holds, the best time to watch the Perseids is between 3am-6am on the morning of August 14. Head to the Time and Date website for the dates and times in your specific location. (The table is updated daily when the Perseids are active and shows the position of the radiant in the sky for the upcoming night.)
Generally, the further north you are, the better your chances of seeing a meteor will be. Those in Darwin will have the best chance, followed by Cairns and Brisbane.
Perseid viewing tips
To get the best from this year's shower, remember the following tips for optimum meteor shower viewing:
- Reduce light pollution. The further away you are from any major cities, the better.
- Find a vantage point. The Perseids almost always hang close to the horizon, but the higher up your viewing point is, the easier you'll see them.
- Use an app to locate the shower. Using a star viewing app can be the best way to locate the radiant point for the shower — in this case, the constellation Perseus, which will probably be hiding just below the horizon. There are plenty of apps both free and paid for all platforms.
- Let your eyes adjust. The longer you sit in the dark, the more your eyes will pick up even when the meteors are very faint. Limit your phone use as much as possible!
- Scan the sky. While the Perseids will mainly appear just above the horizon, you may miss something if you only look in the one place. Remember to constantly be scanning for your best chance of seeing something.
If you can't get outside or are unable to find a good vantage point, you can watch the Perseid Meteor Shower live via the below video stream:
How to photograph the Perseids
If you're planning on photographing the shower, try and find a place with minimal light pollution; preferably with a high vantage point and a good view of the north-east horizon. Here are some photography tips from our previous guide:
Astrophotographer David Finlay recommends setting up with a tripod and cable release, and using the following settings for an optimal picture manual setting, 30 second exposure, f2.8 or lower (or as low as you can go), ISO1600-3200, white balance 4,200K.
If you've got a big memory card, you can also lock the cable release button down and take a series of continuous photos. This way you're more likely to catch fleeting meteor trails, but you can also combine any photos into a great time lapse. To avoid a boring photo, he also suggests making sure something of interest is in the foreground so your photo isn't just plain sky.
You can find some additional tips here.
The Perseid meteor shower peaks Tuesday morning and Wednesday for us in the southern hemisphere. Regarded as one of the best meteor showers of the year, its something space buffs won’t want to miss.
Additional reporting by Hayley Williams.