2018 Perseid meteor shower promises spectacular show

Stargazers are anxiously awaiting the peak weekend for this year’s Perseid meteor shower.

NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com that the 2018 event will peak on the nights of Aug. 11-12 and 12-13. Cooke said he believes the second night will bring the better show of the two.

He said spectators should be able to see 60-70 meteors an hour during the peak hours. During outburst years (such as in 2016) the rate can be between 150-200 meteors an hour.

“This year the moon will be near new moon, it will be a crescent, which means it will set before the Perseid gets underway after midnight,” Cooke told Space.com. “The moon is very favorable for the Perseids this year, and that’ll make the Perseids probably the best shower for 2018 for people who want to go out and view it.”

Comet Swift-Tuttle causes the Perseids. The 16-mile-wide comet is the largest object known to repeatedly pass by Earth. It last did so in 1992 and the next time will be in 2126. But Earth passes through the dust and debris it leaves behind each year.

Viewers are seeing pieces of comet debris heat up as they enter the atmosphere and burn up in a bright burst of light. The meteors travel at 37 miles per second and most are the size of a grain of sand. But Cooke said the Perseids are rich in fireballs, so the show should be spectacular.

Earth passes through the path of Swift-Tuttle’s debris from July 17 to Aug. 24, with the peak coming Aug. 11-13. The Northern Hemisphere down to the mid-southern latitudes are the best locations for viewing.

Cooke said the best way to view a meteor shower is to “take in as much sky as possible.” Go to a dark area in the suburbs or countryside and prepare to wait outside for a few hours.

It can take about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, and Cooke said the longer you wait, the more you’ll see.