What's Up for August? This month our main focus is the Perseid meteor shower.
The best known meteors of the year, the Perseids, are back. But...this year's shower will have to contend with a bright Moon on the peak nights. Still, you could see a dozen or more meteors per hour, including the occasional very bright meteor, also called a fireball.
The meteors in this shower are particles left behind in the debris trail of a comet called Swift-Tuttle. This 16-mile-wide, icy dustball orbits the Sun every 133 years. It last swept through the inner solar system in 1992 and will return in the year 2126.
Earth passes through part of this trail of debris every year, creating the meteor shower as tiny pieces of comet debris collide with our atmosphere and burn up.
The best viewing this year will be on the mornings of August 12th and 13th, in the last couple of hours before dawn. The Moon will be nearly full during this time, so you'll have a better chance to see meteors when the Moon is low in the west, or the brief period after it sets.
For the best meteor watching, face toward the east and look up. The Perseids generally appear to radiate from a point here, a bit to the left of the Pleiades star cluster, but they can appear pretty much anywhere on the sky.
It's important to find a spot away from bright lights and give your eyes a little time to adjust to the darkness. Try to avoid looking at your bright phone screen too. You'll see more meteors that way.
And although you're more likely to see meteors at the shower's peak, you should also be able to spot a few any night the week before. Just know that the Moon's brightness will wash out most of the fainter Perseids this year.
In planet spotting this month, the Moon pairs up with Jupiter in the evening sky on the 9th. It then visits with Saturn on the 11th (› Sky Chart).
Here are the phases of the Moon for August.
You can catch up on all of NASA's current and future missions at nasa.gov.
I'm Preston Dyches from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and that's What's Up for this month.
About the Perseids
The Perseids peak during mid-August. They are often considered the best meteor shower of the year, and they're certainly the best known one. This is partly because the Perseids are one of the most plentiful showers, with 50-100 meteors visible per hour some years. They also occur with warm summer nighttime weather, allowing sky watchers to easily view them.
The comet debris particles that produce most of these meteors are quite small — generally between the size of a grain of sand and a pea.
This year, the bright, nearly full Moon will overwhelm most of the fainter Perseid meteors, greatly limiting the number that can be seen. Nonetheless, hopeful meteor watchers can still glimpse a few shooting stars most nights in early August, with the best time being the pre-dawn hours after the Moon has set.
More about the Perseids: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/asteroids-comets-and-meteors/meteors-and-meteorites/perseids/in-depth/
More about Meteors & Meteorites
Meteoroids are objects in space that range in size from dust grains to small asteroids. Think of them as “space rocks."
When meteoroids enter Earth’s atmosphere (or that of another planet, like Mars) at high speed and burn up, the fireballs or “shooting stars” are called meteors.
When a meteoroid survives a trip through the atmosphere and hits the ground, it’s called a meteorite.
- Additional astronomy & skywatching info from NASA's Night Sky Network: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov
- Meteor stories from NASA's Watch the Skies Blog: https://blogs.nasa.gov/Watch_the_Skies/tag/meteor/