NEWS

Perseids 2015: Biggest Meteor Shower Of The Year Peaks Tonight

08/12/2015 07:15 EDT | Updated 08/12/2016 05:59 EDT
Watch for shooting stars tonight — the biggest meteor shower of the year will reach its peak, and unusually dark skies could make it an especially good show.

The annual Perseid meteor shower happens every August when Earth passes through debris left by comet Swift-Tuttle. When the tiny chunks of rock crash through the Earth's atmosphere and burn up, they leave trails of light that we see as meteors. The Perseids produce more visible meteors than any other annual meteor shower.

This year, the Perseids peak early Thursday morning, and the best time to watch is between midnight and dawn.

And while last year's peak was washed out by a supermoon— one of the biggest full moons of the year —  nature is making up for it this year with a new moon.

That means even fainter meteors will stand out against an unusually dark sky, without the glare of moonlight.

If you're someplace dark, with clear weather and a view of the whole sky, you can expect "about a meteor per minute" during the peak, said Anthony Marrelli, a spokesman for the David Thompson Astronomical Observatory at Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay, Ont.

"The best thing is you don't need a telescope," he added. "You don't need anything other than a chair, some snacks, a blanket if it's kind of chilly."

And then all you need to do is look up. The meteors will appear to originate near the constellation Perseus in the northeast, but they'll streak across the sky.

Even if you live amid the glow of city lights, it's still worth looking out for meteors. The Perseids aren't just more numerous than meteors in other meteor showers, they're also brighter.

Suburban residents can expect a "very decent show," said science journalist Andrew Fazekas, who is an astronomy columnist for CBC Radio.

Even though there may be only a third to half the number of meteors you might see in a rural area, that's still a meteor every two or three minutes.

In the city, you'll probably only see the very brightest meteors, known as fireballs. But the Perseids are known for producing lots of fireballs, Fazekas told CBC's Metro Morning.

"We're talking about stones that are the size of grapefruits to basketballs that produce a super-bright meteor." They may even be accompanied by a smoke trail or sonic boom, he added.

Online options

For those living amid the towers of the urban jungle who can't get a clear view of the sky, there's the option of seeing the meteor shower online.

Both NASA and Slooh will be streaming views of the meteor shower online, along with expert commentary from astronomers, starting at 10 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET, respectively.

Slooh's broadcast will include views from the Canary Islands, Washington, Connecticut, the U.K., and David Thompson Astronomical Observatory in Thunder Bay.

Marrelli, co-ordinator of education and lifelong learning at For William Historical Park, said that so far it looks as if there will be dark skies and clear weather for the Canadian feed.

But he added that those who have the option are better off watching outside than online.

"Just like anything, being there in person and seeing it with your own eyes is always the best way to do it."

After the peak, the number of meteors is expected to drop by about 50 per cent each night over the next two weeks or so, said Fazekas.

But there will still be an unusual number of meteors each night until Aug. 24 or 25, he added.

"There's still plenty of chances to see Perseids."

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