Article image

The Perseids, "Fireball champion" of all meteor showers, will light up the skies this week

Stargazers across the globe, prepare to witness one of the most dazzling meteor showers of the year: the Perseid meteor shower. Named the “fireball champion” by NASA, this meteor shower is scheduled to unfold under near-perfect conditions this week.

The Perseids will peak on the night of Saturday, August 12, stretching into the early hours of Sunday, August 13. The sky will be illuminated with up to 100 meteors each hour, all originating from the Perseid meteoroids. This breathtaking cosmic display will be most visible between 10:30PM and 4:30AM local time.

Unique circumstances 

Bill Cooke, the head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, told Business Insider: “This year’s Perseid meteor shower brings unique circumstances that promise an extraordinary viewing experience. Compared to last year when the moon was full, this year is going to be great.”

The moon, which will be nearly pitch black during the shower in its waning crescent phase, will not outshine the Perseids. The bright trails of the meteor shower will stand out against the dark sky.

According to expert astronomers, two ideal locations to witness this event will be along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States. However, the meteor show will not be limited to these locations, and observers around the world can enjoy the spectacle.

Perseids come from Comet Swift-Tuttle

The Perseid meteors originate from debris shed by the gigantic 16-mile-wide Comet 109/P Swift-Tuttle, which passed closest to Earth in 1992. 

Every August, Earth’s path around the sun leads it through remnants left by this comet during its 133-year-long orbit of our solar system. Swift-Tuttle will make its next significant appearance near Earth in 2126.

Cooke explained why this particular meteor shower is so exceptional: “Most other comets are much smaller, with nuclei only a few kilometers across. As a result, Comet Swift-Tuttle produces a large number of meteoroids, many of which are large enough to produce fireballs.”

Thousands of shooting stars 

This year, Cooke’s NASA team estimates that the rate of Perseid meteors could reach 100 “shooting stars” per hour when observed from a dark site in rural areas. 

For the best experience, Cooke recommends finding a spot away from city lights or other sources of light pollution. “While fireballs can be seen from urban areas, the much greater number of faint Perseids is visible only from the countryside.”

Fiery appearance 

The Perseids, sometimes referred to as ‘The Tears of St. Lawrence,’ occurring every year near the Feast of St. Lawrence on August 10, will blaze through Earth’s atmosphere at a staggering 132,000 mph, about 37 miles per second. This incredible speed causes the meteoroids to ignite into brilliant streaks of flame due to the heated air friction.

“They are the number one producer of fireballs among all meteor showers,” noted Cooke.

Despite their fiery appearance, the Perseids pose no threat to human observers or anything else on Earth, as they nearly always burn up in the atmosphere before reaching the planet’s surface.

The UK’s Royal Astronomical Society emphasized that meteor showers like the Perseids are best observed with the naked eye, requiring no special equipment to enjoy the view.

If local cloud cover interrupts visibility on August 12, the Perseids will continue on subsequent nights, though less brilliantly, as Earth exits the Swift-Tuttle debris field.

Upcoming meteor showers

The next significant meteor shower will be the Draconids in October, originating from a much smaller comet, 21 P/Giacobini-Zinner, with a diameter of just 1.24 miles.

Comparing the Perseids to other meteor showers, Cooke mentioned the Geminid meteor shower. He noted the stark contrast in conditions: “The difference is the Perseids occur in a nice, warm, summer’s night. The Geminis are mid-December and you freeze your tail off.”

“if you’re going to watch any meteor shower this year,” this month’s Perseids is “the one to see.” His advice to those who wish to witness this astronomical wonder? “Just lie back with your eyes, and take in the sky. You’ll see Perseids zip along.”

More about the Perseids 

The Perseids Meteor Shower is a renowned celestial event that transpires annually, peaking around mid-August. During the spectacle, spectators may witness anywhere from 50 to 100 meteors per hour, lighting up the night sky with their trails. The meteor shower derives its name from the constellation Perseus, from where the meteors appear to radiate.

Origin and composition

The Perseids Meteor Shower occurs as the Earth passes through the debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. This comet, with an orbit period of approximately 133 years, leaves behind a path of particles, typically the size of a grain of sand, which become meteors when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

The meteors themselves are composed of dust and rock particles that burn up due to friction with Earth’s atmosphere. This is what creates the streaks of light in the night sky.

Observing the Perseids

The shower generally starts in mid-July, culminating in mid-August. The best time to observe the Perseids is after midnight and before dawn. Peak activity typically occurrs on the night of August 12th and early morning of August 13th.

During this peak period, observers can expect to see the most meteors per hour. To observe the Perseids, no special equipment is necessary. The main viewing requirements are an open sky, away from city lights, with a clear view towards the northern hemisphere. A little bit of patience also helps.

Significance and cultural impact

The Perseids Meteor Shower has captivated observers for over 2,000 years, making it one of the oldest known meteor showers. Ancient Chinese, Japanese, and Greek astronomers documented its appearance.

It is also significant due to the size and brightness of the meteors. They often leave long trails or “trains” that can remain visible for several seconds or even up to a minute. The Perseids has inspired countless works of art, literature, and music, and continues to captivate professional astronomers and hobbyists alike.

Recent observations and discoveries

With advancements in technology, recent observations of the Perseids have enabled scientists to make new discoveries about meteors and comets. Researchers have used the Perseids to study the composition of cometary debris. They provide insights into the formation of our solar system.

In addition, observations of the Perseids Meteor Shower have allowed astronomers to refine the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle, enhancing our understanding of these celestial bodies and their potential impacts on Earth.

The Perseids Meteor Shower remains an enchanting and scientifically significant celestial event. Its unique characteristics and the consistency of its annual appearance offer opportunities for scientific discovery, while also providing a stunning display that enchants skywatchers around the world.

As the Earth continues its orbit, passing through the debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids Meteor Shower will continue to light up the night sky, marking the passage of time and our place in the cosmos.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day