Observers will be happy to know that conditions will be favourable in 2010 for the Perseids to give a great performance. Indeed, the most famous of all the annual meteor showers will reach peak activity this year just a few days after new moon. The crescent moon will set early enough in the evening – before the end of twilight – to be of no concern. The sky will be completely dark throughout the night, so we'll be able to enjoy this celestial show at its full potential.
This year, peak activity for the Perseids is expected around 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on August 12 – early evening in Eastern North America. This timing means that, sadly, observers in eastern North America will miss the moment when the Perseid meteor shower reaches its greatest intensity by just a few hours. Still, the night of August 12 to 13 will be your best bet to see a maximum number of shooting stars.
Usually, the number of Perseids seen from a given place steadily increases as the night progresses, because the radiant (the area of the sky, located near the constellation Perseus, from which the Perseids seem to originate) climbs higher and higher in the sky. However, on the night of August 12 to 13, this effect will be counterbalanced by the fact that we'll be past the peak of the shower, and the intensity of the meteor display will already be decreasing. Around midnight, under a moderately dark but very clear sky, one can expect to see about 30 meteors per hour. This figure could climb up to 70 under very dark and transparent skies: so it will be worth the effort to seek out the darkest skies possible, away from the light pollution of cities.
To sum up, the best night for observing the Perseids will be on August 12 to 13, until dawn. The night of August 11 to 12 and, to a lesser degree, the night of August 13 to 14, will also be very good. But one has to expect lower numbers of meteors when observing further from the time of peak activity. You may also be able to catch a few Perseids – although in lesser numbers – outside the peak period that ranges from August 11 to 14: indeed, Perseids are active from the end of July through the third week of August.
Now, all we can do is hope for clear weather …
Follow the techniques on our Observating shooting stars page, for a safe and enjoyable observation.
Have your wish-list ready, and enjoy the Perseids!