2008 Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks On August 12 – But Start Now!


The Perseids are coming! The Perseids are coming! I’m sure you’re already hearing the cry around the world… But what will be the best place to watch and when will be the best date to see the most “shooting stars”? Follow along and let’s find out…

The Perseid meteor shower has a wonderful and somewhat grisly history. Often referred to as the “Tears of St. Lawrence” this annual shower coincidentally occurs roughly about the same date as the saint’s death is commemorated on August 10. While scientifically we know the appearance of the shooting stars are the by-products of comet Swift-Tuttle, our somewhat more superstitious ancestors viewed them as the tears of a martyred man who was burned for his beliefs. Who couldn’t appreciate a fellow who had the candor to quip “I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well-cooked, it is time to turn me on the other.” while being roasted alive? If nothing else but save for that very quote, I’ll tip a wave to St. Lawrence at the sight of a Perseid!

While the fall rate – the number of meteors seen per hour – of the Perseids has declined in recent years since Swift-Tuttle’s 1992 return, the time to begin your Perseid watch is now. While the peak of activity will not occur until August 12 at approximately 11:00 GMT, this will leave many observers in daylight. For those who wish only to observe during the predicted maximum rate, the place to be is western North America and the time is around 4:00 a.m. However, let’s assume that not all of us can be in that place and be up at that time… So let’s take a more practical look at observing the Perseid Meteor Shower.

For about the last week or so, I’ve noticed random activity has picked up sharply and traceable Perseid activity begins about midnight no matter where you live. Because we are also contending with a Moon which will interfere with fainter meteors, the later you can wait to observe, the better. The general direction to face will be east around midnight and the activity will move overhead as the night continues. While waiting for midnight or later to begin isn’t a pleasant prospect, by then the Moon has gone far west and we are looking more nearly face-on into the direction of the Earth’s motion as it orbits the Sun, and the radiant – the constellation of the meteor shower origin – is also showing well. For those of you who prefer not to stay up late? Try getting up early instead!

How many can you expect to see? A very average and cautiously stated fall rate for this year’s Perseids would be about 30 per hour, but remember – this is a collective estimate. It doesn’t mean that you’ll see one every two minutes, but rather you may see four or five in quick succession with a long period of inactivity in between. You can make your observing sessions far more pleasant by planning for inactive times in advance. Bring a radio along, a thermos of your favorite beverage, and a comfortable place to observe from. The further you can get away from city lights, the better your chances will be.

Will this 2000 year-old meteor shower be a sparkling success or a total dud? You’ll never know unless you go out and try yourself. I’ve enjoyed clear skies here for the last week and without even trying caught at least 15 per hour each night I’ve gone out. One thing we do know is the Perseids are one of the most predictable of all meteor showers and even an hour or so of watching should bring a happy reward!

Wishing you clear skies and good luck…

30 Replies to “2008 Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks On August 12 – But Start Now!”

  1. hello iv seen a few this week as i work nights in the uk nottingham at 4 am in the morning iv seen the best one so far at that time can not wait to see more all i do at night is look up people think im crazy but iv seen so many in a year i stoped counting after 100 thanks for all the posts on your website i love this site and allways my first place to go when i turn computer on

  2. hello again just wanted to say somtimes i see meteors when no shower is on and they are somtimes the best ones i once saw a fire ball at 5 in the morning and had no one to tell it was amazing best thing i ever saw one problem is we get a lot of clouds but when its clear you do get a good view and iv found that somtimes you can just go and outside and woosh one goes past other times you could be standing looking getting neck ach for hours and see nothing lol bye now and thanks again for all the info on dates and times

  3. Hi, leigh, and congrats on the good viewing! Just wanted to let you know that just below your right ring finger there are a comma and a period. I enjoyed your comments, but needed an extra thirty seconds to decipher them.

  4. hey, now! typing isn’t second nature to everyone and i often get picked on because i don’t use caps when i’m being less formal. πŸ˜‰

    there are many articles out there right now about where and when to view the perseids, and i was very dismayed to see a rather reputable souce pointing folks toward the “evening” of august 12 and “morning” of august 13 as the peak. please… this isn’t so. the correct time for august 12 is just after midnight – when the date changes to august 12… so we are looking at monday night into tuesday morning.

    again, i appeal to your good senses not to wait until that specific time if you have a clear night to view. while it is possible to reasonably calculate a meteroid stream, the science isn’t precise. that is why almost all meteor showers have a broad time of “activity”.

    the best advice i can give you to avoid disappointment is to avoid the earlier, moonlit hours before the constellation of perseus is well risen. it would be far better to try to sleep away the earlier evening hours and watch during prime time that to watch during the off hours for a few chance streaks.

    as robin said, the perseids never disappoint.

  5. Saw some nice ones south of Kansas City at Powell Observatory Thursday night. Saw Perseids, Kappa Cygnid and sporadics. The “star” of the show was an aquamarine -3 fireball Perseid (earthgrazer?) that headed NW and down toward the horizon. It peaked with a nice flash after a graduat brightening left a train (trail).

  6. Nice one Tammy! I’m starting my first observation run now πŸ™‚ Got a spare couple of hours so I’m giving it a go. Got the Mulled wine on the stove, so I suspect my observational capabilities will diminish as the night goes on πŸ˜‰

    Great article, really gets me enthused to be more of an astronomer πŸ™‚

    See you soon!

    Cheers, Ian

  7. I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing a meteor falling tonight in Newton, MA around 10:30pm ~ it was long & brilliant w/ a greenish tint at its core. Enjoy!

  8. Great article, Tammy! For the last week around here in SE Minnesota we’ve been seeing an amazing amount of nice meteors.

    A week ago, the Rochester Astronomy Club had a Star BQ at my favorite observing spot on the MN/IA border and both Friday and Sat. nights we saw literally dozens. I think that weekend we were seeing the Delta Aquarids and Capricornids, but late on Sat nite/Sun. morning the radiant switched to a Perseid direction.

    Last nite at Eagle Bluff, the Perseids put on a show! Once again, we saw at least two dozen meteors even while we spent most of the night hunting for Herschel 400 objects.

    Astronomy rocks!

  9. I’ll have a look but the light pollution round where I live is awful. How ever in past years I’ve seen some pretty good showers.
    Lets hope for clear skies.

  10. Gotta go with Tammy on this one. I plan to go out early Monday morning, while the moon is low & setting in the southwest. This gives observers a little more ‘dark sky’ time compared to the max predicted for the next morning. But even with a full moon high in the sky, I’ve seen many bright Perseids from my light polluted site in Tampa over the past few years. You’ll never know what your missing if you don’t take a peek. All we need now are clear skies!

  11. there’s m’man!

    i’ve been at it all weekend. sporadic rains here in ohio has meant a very high dewpoint – but happily some very nice openings to view the perseids through.

    early morning activity for the 11th was very, very nice. but again, a strong, heavy dewpoint makes for some very damp observing. some of ian’s mulled wine would have been very nice to have chased off those early morning chills! but… i guess i just settled for coffee and a blanket to keep the arthritis quiet. πŸ˜‰

    maybe it’s age… or having having a couple of dogs curled up with you in the wee hours before dawn, but whatever it is, being out at that hour is very solemn and somehow poetic. each time the clouds would start to form, all i could think was that it was like:

    “the earth’s warm breath fogging the cold mirror of the sky reflecting the distant stars.”

    i’m getting weird in my old age.

  12. ian! don’t forget tomorrow about 11:00 your time to run the google earth ionosphere program and check to see what the meteor activity does to the west coast of north america!

    for those of you who happen to catch this? join in! download google earth ionosphere and do this scientifically. start with baseline sample screen shots that show what the ionosphere in western north america looks like during a random test sample. then try during the peak of the perseids to see if it registers. we know for a fact the meteor activity causes ionosphere disturbances and it would be absolutely grand to get some hard science on this.

    do it!! πŸ˜€

  13. Hi, Tammy. I can sympathize with your sporadic cloud problems( I used to observe from central Ohio & now check out meteor showers from humid Tampa). But while looking for meteors between holes in the cloud cover I’ve been lucky to see clouds themselves illuminated by bright meteors or fireballs without seeing the actual meteor itself. This in itself is an awesome sight. Of course a mag 6 clear dark sky would be preferable, I’ll take what I can get through murky Florida skies. You’ll never know what may occur unless you make an effort & go out & look. Anyway, good luck & good weather up in Ohio.

  14. Tammy, thanks for the Google Earth ionosphere reference. I’ll definitely check this out. Spaceweather.com page today(8-11-08) had a mp3 audio recording made by an amateur of faint radio broadcasts being amplified by a passing Perseid. I’ve also read about trucking companies using radio transmissions reflected off of ionized meteor trails to keep track of their truck fleets! Yet another way to track meteor showers (even if clouded out or during daylight hours).

  15. Ah I’m in Tampa as well, but the sky seems clear for this! Last time I observed a shower it was pretty amazing. I’m pretty pumped for this one πŸ™‚

  16. Check out this site (www.heliotown.com/Fireballs_August_11_2008_Ashcraft.html) for video clips of Perseids & other meteors with stereo sound ! by Thomas Ashcraft taken in New Mexico starting 8-11-08. Radio spectrograms of these fireballs can also be found here. Thanks to SpaceWeather.com for the link. What a blast !!

  17. Hey Rachael, I think you may be right about sky conditions down here in Tampa. Let’s hope it stays this way till dawn. I’m pumped myself for a night of Perseid watching. Let us know how things go for you tonite. Good luck & clear skies for all !

  18. From 1:30 to 2:30 am EDT, early in the morning of August 12, in Barboursville, WV. 25504, I saw 8 nice medium sized meteors, and probably about 20 fine line sized ones. These were mostly in a small portion of the sky that I could see from the side of our home. Most of the medium sized ones were nearly in the same spot or close to it. I call them medium size, because in the past I have seen several huge fireballs that look almost the size of basketballs going across the sky. Those fireballs always seem to have a whoosh sound to them. I don’t think it was just our imagination. We both thought the same.

  19. I’m in New York, I saw about 15 shooting stars between 2am and 4am. I also saw 3 falling stars which slowly fell from the center of the sky directly above my head, all the way down to the horizon. It was amazing to watch. Does anyone know the best time to see shooting stars tonite?

  20. incredible skies here in ohio. a nice high pressure system dropped in at the right time! although i swore i wouldn’t watch during the moonlit hours – i did anyway. around 4:00 am things really began to rock!

    by 5:00 i felt like some sort of weird gypsy pez dispenser with my celestial shawl tied around my head and blanket around my legs, sitting my rocker with my tin cup of coffee. (i thought about going out and laying in the grass for a full, open sky – but i kept having these visions of the uncomfortably large garden snake that lives in my well-groomed tomato plants joining the german shepherds and me in the blanket pile. (and yes, i know they do not come out at night – but my mind does not accept that fact when the dogs choose to lay on the deck.)

    during peak activity time we were having a very solid 30 per hour here and there were probably more that i didn’t observe. during the dark hours was a sweet 6 LM and one of the high points of the whole evening was simply watching the milky way curl around as the earth turned… winding its way through cassiopeia, perseus and ending in the coma of the pleiades. most meteors were short-arc – around 10 degrees of train, pale blue and around mag 1. a few had long trains, very pale and fast, 50-60 degrees and mag. 4… a few sweet earth-grazers that were so bright i would guess around -3 and, like ruth ann described, you felt like should make noise. (i believe they do… it sounds a whole lot like… “Woooooo HOOOOOoooooo!!” πŸ˜‰ )

    now, i’m off to check out the ionospheric data just out of curiousity. i was going to track it periodically last night – but chose to observe instead. i believe it has a replay feature, so maybe there’s some data.

    i hope everyone had an equally wonderful evening!

  21. Hello, I’ve been watching the meteor shower since around 11 and have seen about 45 shooting stars. Some are small and others leave a massive streak across the sky. All in all, its been a great night! I only wish this happened every night….

  22. Tammy,
    Thank you fo ryour response. I cannot wait. I started work this morning at 7am and I only got 30 minutes of sleep last night because I was so excited. I will wait as long as it takes. Especially being a photographer, I was trying to ‘capture the moment’.

  23. hi, jessie!

    well, you may have missed the premier, but you can still catch the late show!

    my very best advice is this… check an hourly weather forecast for 3:30-4:00 a.m. wednesday, august 13. if it is going to be clear at that hour and you can possibly observe then? THAT is the best time.

    the more the moon waxes, the more even just a little moisture in the air will scatter the light and the harder it will be to see fainter meteors, while it will be “down” before then, you really need to wait as long as possible for the last vestiges of light to disappear. i know that will only give you about 90 minutes or so to observe before dawn starts robbing the sky from the other side – but the chances are getting slimmer by the day!

    best of luck to you, dear…

  24. hi, jess!

    i’m not a very good astrophotographer, but i’m pretty sure you can open the shutter with a cable for a long timed exposure… so what if it has “trails”… you might catch a meteor!

    be sure to share if you do catch one, ok? if nothing else, click on my name and send it to me!

    fingers crossed for you…

  25. Hey there, I was one of those that read the wrong date! But I went out last night, the 12th and in two hrs, from 2 4 am, I saw 64! I was very pleased, even if it wasnt the peak, I saw my share and even blogged about it on My MySpace Page, all are welcome to view my blog, (Shameless Plug applies!) http://www.myspace.com/miccilina

  26. Hey,
    I’ve been searching the internet for something on the meteor i saw at 6:55am on Saturday 16th August from Brisbane, Australia. I came across this site and decided to post this. It was beautiful and the sky was absolutley cloudless. The sun had been out for a small while by this time and was rising from the oposing side. The tail was long and magnificent. I made the call out to others to get to their balconies quick smart. But alas, the others were to late. Jus wondering what this really was, and was it some part of a bigger event.

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