The Perseid Meteor Shower is set to peak on the night of August 12 and early morning hours of August 13 AEST. It's 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 caveat out of the way, here are some tips to increase the odds of catching a meteor or two this week.
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 12.
At approximately 12am tonight, the 2017 Perseid Meteor Shower is set to wow the world. Many eyewitnesses will use the words "meteor", "meteorite", "comet" and "asteroid" interchangeably to describe the celestial event they're seeing.
In reality, these are all completely different types of space rock. If you want to avoid a social faux pas tonight (or want to be the smarty-pants who corrects fellow stargazers), here's what sets each type apart.
While this is set to be one of the better showings of the Perseids in the northern hemisphere, it can still be difficult to view in Australia. Despite having a decent number of meteors per hour at its peak, the show will be somewhat obscured by a waning gibbous Moon.
In addition to this, the Perseids don't often rise above the horizon in the Southern Hemisphere. 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, with the top viewings in Australia having the potential to show a meteor every two minutes or so.
While the peak occurs between 11pm and 1:30am on Saturday night/Sunday morning, you won't see much at this time of the night. The best time for viewing them is actually between 3am and dawn on August 12, 13 or 14. The best views will come on the 13th, between 4am and 5:30am.
Time and Date has a table updated daily showing the azimuth and altitude of the radiant for a number of Australian locations. It'll also estimate your best chance of viewing the Perseids from your location.
This is where the radiant will be in Sydney, estimated at 4am AEST, 13 August. It actually sits below the horizon, in the middle of this image:
And here's the radiant as it can be seen in Brisbane, estimated at 4am AEST, 13 August:
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: