Perseid meteor shower 2020: how to see it

The Perseid meteor shower peaks this week! Find out how you can spot a meteor in the night sky.

Stargazers observe the Perseid meteor shower over the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party, Canada, 10 August 2018. Credit: VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Perseid meteor shower typically occurs between 17 July and 24 August, and the peak for 2020 is expected this week between 14:00 BST (13:00 UT) and 17:00 BST (16:00 UT) on 12 August, during daylight hours. This means the best opportunities for spotting Perseid meteors will be on the nights of 11/12 August and 12/13 August.

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The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most prolific showers in the annual calendar and a fairly reliable performer. Perseid rates typically climb and fall quite steeply in the hours running up to and from the peak itself.

In addition, the orientation of Earth with respect to its motion around the Sun changes through the course of a 24-hour period.

Your local position is best placed in the hours after local midnight, when your part of Earth has effectively turned to face incoming meteoroids head on. This raises impact energy, resulting in more and brighter trails.

As the predicted peak period is fairly evenly positioned between the morning periods of 12 and 13 August, observing on 11/12 August should provide a decent build up to the peak.

Although the evening of 12/13 August should still show the run down from the peak, Earth’s orientation pre-midnight UT will dampen this a little.

Perseid activity can typically occur between 17 July and 24 August, but outside the peak dates rates will be low. A number of weaker showers overlap the Perseids, providing quite a spectacle for August stargazers.

For a full list of the annual showers and when they occur, read our beginners’ guide to meteor showers. And for a complete guide to making detailed observations and records, read our guide how to observe and record shooting stars.

Find out how to photograph a Perseid at the bottom of this article.

The night sky at the peak of the Perseids on 12 August at 22.45 BST (21.45 UT). Credit: Pete Lawrence
The night sky at the peak of the Perseids on 12 August at 22.45 BST (21.45 UT). Credit: Pete Lawrence

What is a meteor shower?

Meteor showers are usually associated with comets, but there are some that are caused by asteroids. As a comet orbits the Sun, it releases dust, and this dust eventually spreads around the orbit.

As Earth orbits the Sun, it passes through these dust streams around the same time every year. When this happens, the number of trails seen increases. Our perspective on Earth makes the trails appear to emanate from a small region in the sky called the shower radiant, which moves over the duration of the shower.

The constellation in which the meteor shower’s peak activity occurs gives its name to that shower. For example, the Perseids show peak activity when the radiant is in Perseus.

The best times to spot the Perseids in 2020 will be on the nights of the 11/12 August and 12/13 August. Credit: Pete Lawrence
The best times to spot the Perseids in 2020 will be on the nights of the 11/12 August and 12/13 August. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Readers’ images of the Perseid meteor shower