The Perseid meteor shower comes to a peak this weekend. The shower is caused by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet orbits the sun once in 133 years and won’t be back until 2126, but it leaves behind a trail of dust. Every year in mid-August the Earth plows through this trail, causing a shower of “shooting stars.” When the dust burns up in the atmosphere above us, it appears as a meteor.
The moon is new today and that means that moonlight will not interfere. You can start viewing meteors around 11 p.m. tonight, with the best time in the early morning hours before dawn. Meteors will seem to come from the constellation Perseus in northeast sky for the first few hours, but remember that meteors can appear in any part of the sky.
Tomorrow night into Monday morning will also be good for viewing. About 50 to 75 meteors are expected under clear dark skies – much less near city lights. Activity will drop off next week but the Perseids remain active through Aug. 26
Kevin D. Conod is the planetarium manager and astronomer at the Newark Museum’s Dreyfuss Planetarium. For updates on the night sky, call the Newark Skyline at (973) 596-6529.