How to see the 2022 Perseid meteor shower
The Perseid meteor shower peaks every August. Find out how you can spot a Perseid in the night sky this month.
Every August the Perseid meteor shower makes for a spectacular display in the night sky. It is easily one of the best and most eagerly anticipated meteor showers in the annual stargazing calendar.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year between 17 July and 24 August, with peak period happening 8-16 August and a sharp peak in activity typically seen around 11–13 August.
The peak of the 2022 Perseid meteor shower will be the night of 12 August and the early hours before dawn on 13 August.
However, when considering observations a meteor shower, it pays to consider where the Moon will be.
Will there be a bright full Moon during peak activity? If so, your chances of seeing a meteor will be minimised.
Unfortunately this is the case for the 2022 Perseid meteor shower. The presence of a just-past-full Moon in Aquarius will render this year’s visual peak unfavourable.
While this year's Perseid meteor shower may not be as good for observing as previous years, you might have more success capturing it with a DSLR camera.
Scroll down towards the bottom of this article for advice on how to photograph the Perseids.
For more info on the year's displays, read our complete guide to meteor showers.
What causes the Perseid meteor shower?
Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through dust distributed around a comet’s orbit.
Entering our atmosphere on parallel paths, perspective causes meteor trails to appear to emanate from the same sky location, known as the shower radiant.
In the case of the Perseid meteor shower, the radiant is the constellation Perseus.
Over the activity period, the radiant’s position drifts against the background stars. Peak activity represents us passing through the densest part of the stream.
For more on the science of meteor showers, read our guide What causes a meteor shower?
How to see the Perseid meteor shower
Despite the presence of a full Moon during the peak of the 2022 Perseid meteor shower, you can still head out and see what you can observe in the night sky.
And if all you can see is the bright Moon, grab a pair of binoculars and read our guide on how to observe the Moon.
There are a few tricks and tips to employ when observing any meteor shower:
- Avoid artificial light as much as possible when viewing the shower
- You don't have to get to a dark-sky site: try keeping street and house lights out of your line of sight
- Use a torch with a red filter (to preserve your night vision) to find your way.
- Let your eyes adapt to the darkness for 30-40 minutes and you’ll see much fainter meteors
- Wrap up warm with good thermals and a warm, waterproof coat.
- Keep your feet warm: cold can creep up through the ground even on a warm summer night
- Lie back to view the stars, so you can see a large swathe of sky without straining your neck
- A garden lounger or other astronomy chair is a great viewing platform
- Look for Perseid meteors at an altitude around 60˚ in any direction
- Longest trails are seen 40–140˚ from the radiant; towards the radiant expect short trails.
- A look in the opposite direction to the radiant will reveal trails that appear short and converge to a point called the anti-radiant
Perseid displays often exhibit bright events, many of which show what appears to be an after image of the trail, which is a weakly glowing column of ionised gas.
This ‘meteor train’ fades from view as the energy in the ionised atoms is given up. High altitude winds may also affect the train, distorting its shape.
How many Perseids will we see?
If you read some of the media coverage of meteor showers like the Perseids, you might think that, at their peak, these events see a near-constant rain of bright shooting stars blazing across the sky.
Real meteor showers – while captivating and absolutely worth observing – are rarely like this.
One number that’s often mentioned is the Zenithal Hourly Rate, or ZHR. This is a theoretical number of meteors that would be visible, on average, over an hour with the radiant of the shower at the zenith and the viewing occurring under perfect sky conditions.
The ZHR isn’t a good indicator of how many meteors you can expect to see every hour, however; that figure will be lower because of things like light pollution and the typically lower radiant at the observing time.
It’s possible to roughly estimate how many Perseids you might spot, on average, near the peak of the shower.
Such a calculation suggests that while observing at around 3am (BST) on the night of the peak, a group of observers at a suburban site – where the naked-eye limiting magnitude is, say, +5 – could potentially see a rate of about 25 Perseids an hour or so.
Of course, given the presence of a bright Moon in 2022, the number of meteors you see will be limited.
What is a meteor?
Meteors begin their lives out in the depths of space as tiny grains of dust, known as ‘meteoroids’.
If any of these flecks of interplanetary material are unfortunate enough to hit Earth as they travel around the Sun, they collide with our atmosphere at many kilometres per second and get vaporised in the process.
The narrow ribbon of light that occurs when this happens is the meteor – what many call a ‘shooting star’ – and they’re happening all the time.
On a clear night if you look up at the stars for, say, half an hour or so, it’s highly likely that you’ll see a meteor at some point – especially from an observing site with dark skies.
Many meteors that you see like this will be what’s known as ‘sporadic’ meteors. Essentially that means that they are random in nature and can appear anywhere in the sky, going in any direction.
What’s different with the Perseid meteor shower is that Perseids, while they can materialise anywhere against the backdrop of stars, all appear to streak from a fairly-well defined point on the sky – astronomers call it the ‘radiant’.
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This behaviour is, in fact, an optical illusion. The meteors are actually travelling on broadly parallel paths, as the meteoroids that create them plough into the top of Earth’s atmosphere.
It’s merely a trick of perspective that makes them look like they’re zooming across the sky from the radiant point.
While ‘normal’ sporadic meteors originate from meteoroids scattered in a fairly random way between the planets, meteors in meteor showers like the Perseids occur when Earth passes through a stream of dusty material left by a comet or asteroid as it has journeyed around the Sun.
In the case of the Perseids, that’s a cloud of dust left by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle.
Every year Earth’s orbit brings our planet into a position where its path intersects with that trail.We sail through the stream of dusty particles over the course of a few weeks and the result is the Perseid meteor shower.
How to photograph the Perseid meteor shower
Visually, the 2022 Perseid meteor shower will be something of a washout due to the presence of a bright Moon around the period of peak activity. Photographically, however, there is hope.
A camera set up to do a multi-second exposure of the night sky will typically return a bright, overexposed frame if the Moon is nearby.
However, with careful tuning of the camera’s settings, it is possible to reduce the intensity of the recorded background sky so that it doesn’t overexpose.
For example, reducing the camera’s sensitivity (low ISO, small aperture) will deliver a multi-second exposure without overexposure. Under normal nighttime conditions, such settings probably wouldn’t record many meteors.
To work here, the camera needs to be set to the settings you would normally use for meteor imaging – high ISO and wide aperture – but the exposure time needs to be reduced to prevent sky overexposure.
In this way, if a meteor trail passes through the camera frame, it should record just as it would if the sky were darker and the exposure longer.
There are caveats though. Shorter exposures mean more shots will be taken.
The ideal filetype here is your camera’s RAW image format, and such files tend to be on the large side.
Lots of large image files means you need plenty of storage available, but for modern cameras this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
More frames also require more time to check afterwards.
Mind the gap in your imaging time
The use of RAW means that at the end of each shot a fair amount of data needs to be transferred to your camera’s storage card. This can create a ‘gap’ in your camera’s imaging capability, a period when no image is being taken.
Under normal ‘dark sky’ meteor exposure settings, this gap will be far shorter than the exposure time. However, when the Moon is about and exposure times need to be radically shortened, the gap becomes significant.
For example, a one-second gap vs a 29-second exposure means that only two seconds of imaging time is lost per minute (3.3%).
However, if the exposure time is reduced to one second, this equals the gap time. Consequently, 30 seconds are lost per minute of imaging time (50%).
A shorter exposure also raises the probability of truncating a meteor trail mid-flight, something that increases for brighter and longer meteor trails.
Although not ideal, it is still possible to set up a camera to record this year’s Perseid shower and, given clear weather, there’s every chance that you will be able to record some trails.
And as it’s likely there will be fewer people out having a go on the night of the 12th/13th, if you do capture a bright trail you may well be the only one to do so.
Follow our step-by-step guide below and see what you can catch.
For more advice, read our guide on how to photograph a meteor shower and our pick of the best equipment for photographing meteor showers.
Photograph the Perseid meteor shower, step-by-step
- DSLR camera
- MILC camera
- Tripod or tracking mount
- Remote shutter release
Choose a lens that will give you a good field of view but avoid going too wide as the trails will appear small and unimpressive. Something around the 14–18mm mark would be a good compromise. Have a set of charged batteries ready as well as plenty of storage cards and a lockable remote shutter cable.
The camera will need to be mounted on a stable platform. A tripod will keep the camera still as the sky moves through the field of view. A tracking mount will keep the camera pointing at the same area of sky. If using a tracking mount, make sure the camera doesn’t end up pointing at a foreground object.
Set camera and lens to manual and check the camera clock. Pre-focus at infinity using a bright target such as Jupiter. Older cameras should be set to an ISO value of 3200 or 6400, while more modern bodies can go further, eg 5000-10,000. Fully open the aperture, reducing by a stop or two if edge stars distort.
Aim at an area of sky that won’t bring the Moon into frame. Set a test exposure of 5s and take a shot. Examine the sky. If it’s overexposed, reduce the exposure. If it appears dark, consider increasing exposure. Reduce ISO or aperture only if you can’t get a non-overexposed sky with less than a 1s exposure.
Set the camera to continuous shutter mode and lock the button down on a connected remote shutter cable. The camera should continuously take shots at the pre-set exposure. Routinely check the lens for moisture, using a 12V hairdryer to remove any. A 12V heater band is a recommended alternative if you have one.
Capture for as long as you can. Download the results. Using a viewing app, examine each image in turn. Renaming any suspected trail images with a prefix (eg ‘meteor_’) makes them easier to find later on. Perseid trails should align with the radiant and often show green-pink coloration.
Pictures of Perseid meteors
If you're in need of some inspiration, below is a selection of Perseid meteors captured by astrophotographers and BBC Sky at Night Magazine readers.
If you do manage to photograph a Perseid meteor, we'd love to see it! Find out how to send us your astrophotos, or get in touch via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and a co-presenter of The Sky at Night. This guide originally appeared in the August 2021 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.