Now that July is almost over, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. So now we can observe the night sky again without having to stay up late, as long as the sky is clear. Amazingly July has been having a lot of rain that we desperately need to get out of the drought we’ve been in this year. So the rain is welcome!
The Perseid Meteor Shower peaks on the night of Aug. 11/12, but they are visible from July 17 to Aug. 24. The peak is when most are visible, and the Perseids can produce up to 100 meteors per hour. But I think there will be a lot for a few nights before and after the peak. Last year the full moon occurred during the peak, but this year it occurs on Aug. 3. So the last quarter moon is on the 11th making it 10 times dimmer than the full moon. After that the moon will get dimmer as it reaches the New Moon phase on the 18th. So I think viewing will be good for the week after the peak.
They are the result of trails of debris left over from Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle which completes one full orbit of the Sun every 133 years. The debris streak into our atmosphere at 36 miles per second, then they burn up into a fiery burst of light. It’s our best and most exciting meteor shower.
Pre dawn hours are always the best for viewing, but the moon will add some light to the sky. On the peak night the moon won’t rise until 1 a.m. and be only 10 percent as bright as the full moon. You’ll be able to see a lot of them before going to bed. Look in the NE and you’ll see them flying around and up overhead. They’ll be fast moving bright streaks.
The reason you can see more meteors in the early morning is because the Earth has rotated, so the night side is now heading into the stream. Before midnight the meteors must catch up with Earth, so they’re most numerous from 1 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. You just have to deal with the moon this year, but it will get dimmer as the days progress. 3 a.m. is predicted to be the most active time. That’s why I think you’ll have a week of good mornings after the 12th. They will rise higher as the morning progresses and be visible high in the northeast.
On the 19th I got to see Comet NEOWISE. It’s now visible in the evening sky. Just look in the NW below the Big Dipper. I took my binoculars out at 9:30 and with them I found the comet. It was bright with a long hazy tail on its upper right. Then I went back out at 9:45 when the sky was darker. The comet had dropped down a little, but was brighter. Then when I looked at the sky without the binoculars I could see it as a faint haze going up to the right below the Big Dipper. So that was an amazing night!
Also Venus swings into its greatest elongation in the morning sky. Just look in the ESE for it, and you will see a very bright planet. So enjoy the planet and the meteor shower! We like to go out and soak in our hot tub while we watch the Perseids in the evening. Then I get up during the night to watch some more.