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Perseids to ignite across skies to end the week in one of best meteor viewing opportunities of 2016

By by Michael Kuhne, Staff Writer
August 15, 2016, 2:44:02 AM EDT

As Earth passes through the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle late this week, the glowing trains of dying meteors will streak across the night sky, marking the annual return of the Perseid meteor shower.

“It is typically the second richest shower after the Geminids every December,” Slooh Astronomer and The Old Farmers Almanac Astronomy Editor Bob Berman said. “[The Perseids] offer very fast meteors, and about 30 percent of them leave behind lingering trains. The number of meteors increase quite a bit after 12 and 1 a.m. when the 'radiant,' or the place in the sky the meteors emanate from, rises in the northeast.”


The shower's peak occurred on Thursday night, but Friday night will also offer a good opportunity for those looking to experience the Perseids, according to NASA.

Discovered during the American Civil War by astronomers Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle, debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet colliding with the planet and burning up in the atmosphere provides the spectacular light show, but cloudy skies might block the view for some stargazers.

"One of the best things about the Perseids meteor shower is the fact it occurs during the summer months across the Northern Hemisphere," AccuWeather Meteorologist and astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel said. "Summer tends to feature more clear skies than the colder seasons."

The most likely area to have widespread cloud cover will be the Gulf Coast, he added.

"A storm that captured headlines with flooding this week will slowly move west across the Gulf Coast," Samuhel said. "This feature will likely bring clouds from Texas east through Florida, including Mississippi, Alabama and perhaps Georgia."


Meanwhile, a frontal boundary will be stalled across the mid-Mississippi Valley, Great Lakes and Northeast, he added, stating that clouds will disrupt the viewing conditions.

"Remember, the best viewing will be after midnight, when the moon sets," he said. "Much of the rest of the country has a good chance of seeing meteors. However, the immediate West Coast will have low clouds becoming more widespread as the night wears on." “The Perseids and Geminids are by far the best showers - until 2099, when we'll get an even richer display of the Leonids,” Berman said. “Other annual showers are minor, meaning they offer only a quarter the meteor rate.”

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When it comes to the ideal viewing environment, the darker the better, Berman added.

“There are more faint meteors than medium ones, and more medium than bright so a bright background city sky will eliminate nearly all of them,” he said. "The darker the suburb, the more you'll see. This is a good time to visit those friends in the country.”

In addition to dealing with light pollution this year, there will also be unwanted moonlight, Berman added.

Most meteors will be visible in the predawn hours between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. on the night of Aug. 12-13, according to Berman.

“That's when you get a double whammy - no moonlight, and the most meteors in any case,” Berman said.

With so many meteors visible, Berman said you can search anywhere across the night sky, but offered some advice on from where they'll emanate.

“They radiate from the northeast and mostly streak upward before midnight, after which they mostly cross the sky sideways,” he said. “They streak away from Perseus, but looking toward Perseus where they streak from lets you see mostly shorter streaks, since these are the ones coming straight at you.”

For 2016, the next super-shower is the Geminids, but the moon will unfortunately be near full and will interfere, according to Berman.

“Next year is much better all around. So this year, for a truly maximum meteor spectacle, it's the Perseids alone,” Berman said.

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