The Perseid meteor shower has been active for nearly a month, but tonight is its peak, the best night of the year to catch a glimpse of the annual astronomical display that’s caused when the Earth — or more specifically the Earth’s atmosphere — passes through the debris trail left by the Swift-Tuttle comet.
The Perseids are one of the more popular meteor showers every year, as it’s one of the most prolific and, because it’s in late summer, pleasant to view. An unfortunate coincidence will make this year’s Perseid meteor shower a bit less awe-inspiring than usual.
“The moon will be very close to full on the night of the peak, which will wash out the fainter Perseids,” NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com. “The Perseids are rich in fireballs, so you’ll still see Perseids; you just won’t see the show you’ve seen on nights when the moon has not been around.”
“It won’t be a total wash-out, because the Perseids are rich in bright meteors, but the moonlight is going to spoil most of the show.”
In years without a bright moon, stargazers can see more than 60 meteor streaks per hour; this year NASA is estimating rates between 15 and 20 which, honestly, is still pretty great!
You can check out the Perseids for yourself from 10 p.m. through dawn, and the frequency of meteors you can see should increase as the night goes on, particularly after Venus and Jupiter set at 9:30 and 11 p.m., respectively.
As with any astronomical event, you should find the darkest place possible — city dwellers will have trouble making out a lot of the show — and give your eyes at least half an hour to adjust to the darkness.