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Perseid Meteor Shower approaches peak; how to see it this week

The upcoming full moon may play a role in how many meteors you see

The Perseid Meteor Shower is an astronomical highlight of the summer for many people — and it’s about to hit its peak. 

Every summer, Perseid meteors fly across the sky between July and September, but they hit their peak shortly before mid-August. 

This year, astronomers expect the peak will occur on the night of August 11-12. 

“What we’re looking at is a meteor shower that we’re seeing the debris left behind by an apparent comet called Swift-Tuttle,” explained Jim Todd, director of space science education at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. 

He said ice particles and rocks that are often no larger than a grain of sand enter Earth’s atmosphere. They encounter friction and create plasma, that’s the bright streak humans see flying across the sky called a meteor or shooting star. 

Most are destroyed during entry, but the rare few that survive and hit Earth’s surface are known as meteorites.  

The Perseids are named after the constellation Perseus because the meteors appear to radiate out from Perseus. 

Todd compares it to a showerhead and said if people follow the tail of a meteor backward, they’ll see it points toward Perseus.  

Most years at its peak, people can see 60 to 100 meteors in an hour from a dark place, but those numbers might be a bit higher than what people can expect to see this week. That’s because of the full moon on August 11. The moon’s brightness could result in people seeing about 20% fewer meteors than they normally would, Todd said. 

In this composite image, satellites, planes and comets transit across the night sky under stars that appear to rotate above Corfe Castle in the United Kingdom on Aug. 12, 2016. (Credit: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

If that’s the case, Todd encourages people to keep watching the sky in the days after the peak. They might end up seeing more as the moon wanes and becomes less bright. 

“Sometimes you’ll see more on like two or three days later than you will see on the peak,” Todd said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to see the most on the 11th and 12th.”

He said after midnight on the 12th, the moon will be more of a factor because it will remain bright in the sky until sunrise. 

The one convenient thing about the moon’s brightness is it means stargazers really won’t notice much of a difference spotting meteors if they stay in the city or venture out to the country. They’ll be difficult to spot either way. 

For anyone hoping to capture photos of meteors in the sky, Todd recommends using a DSLR camera and setting it up with a long exposure, 5 to 10 minutes. He said pointing it about 30 degrees northeast would be a good position to capture the sky. However, there’s never a guarantee the timing or positioning will be right. 

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