The Perseid meteor shower 2023: How to watch

When does the Perseid meteor shower peak?

The 2023 Perseid meteor shower peaks on the night of August 12 and the morning of August 13. The Perseids usually put on a good show and this year may produce 50 to 75 meteors per hour at a dark site. The 2023 Perseids peak right before a new Moon, meaning the skies will be particularly dark, which is ideal for viewing. 

What causes the Perseid meteor shower?

Like most meteor showers, the Perseids are caused by the debris of a comet that once crossed Earth's path. In this case, the shower is caused by debris from comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet's 133-year orbit carries it out beyond Pluto. It last visited our inner Solar System in 1992.

Where can I watch the Perseid meteor shower?

This meteor shower will be more easily visible from the Northern Hemisphere and into to the mid-southern latitudes. Perseid meteors appear to come from the area of the night sky where you find the constellation Perseus. 

The best way to watch a meteor shower is from a dark sky site, so it helps to get away from city lights as much as you can. 

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What is the Perseid meteor shower? Everything you need to know about the annual Perseid meteor shower and how to watch it.

Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle
Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle The litterbug behind the annual Perseid meteor shower, as seen in 1992.Image: NASA

What is a meteor? 

Meteors are also known as shooting stars, but they aren't actually stars at all. Meteors are streaks of light in the sky caused by dust and small rocks burning up as they hit Earth's upper atmosphere at very high speeds — tens of kilometers per second.

These small particles create bright streaks of light you can see from the ground at night. In general, the bigger the piece of space dust, the brighter the meteor. 

Space is full of dust, so on a typical night from a dark location, you might see up to 10 meteors per hour — no shower required!

What is a meteor shower?

Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through debris shed by a comet or asteroid. They reoccur at about the same time every year, when Earth comes around in its orbit and passes through the debris again.

Two of the best meteor showers of the year are the Perseids, which peak in mid-August, and the Geminids, which peak in mid-December. The Perseids often get more media attention because they occur during the northern hemisphere summer. However, the Geminids typically produce more meteors.

Meteor showers are named after the constellation that contains the radiant of the shower. The radiant is where the meteors appear to emanate from — if you draw a line back along the meteors, all of the lines will meet at the same point. This is an effect of the Earth speeding through the comet debris, meaning when you watch a meteor shower, you're seeing direct evidence of our planet orbiting the Sun!

How to watch a meteor shower

All you need to watch a meteor shower is your eyes, patience, and a mostly cloud-free night. Go out, get comfortable, and stare at the sky. Typically the best time to see a meteor shower is between midnight and pre-dawn, because that's when you are on the leading side of the Earth, watching the comet debris come at you like rain hitting a car windshield.

You don’t have to stare in the direction of the radiant; in fact, meteors farther away from it will appear longer. It is often said that an ideal place to look is 45 degrees away from the radiant, but the most important factor is getting to a dark location away from city lights, letting your eyes adjust for several minutes, and looking at the darkest patch of sky you can.

Go out, look up at the night sky and have fun!