Monster-slayer and mythical Greek hero Perseus lends his name to one of the most anticipated meteor showers of the year, which peaks Friday.
The annual Perseids shower will be most visible after 10 p.m. Friday and in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, but should be relatively active through the weekend.
While the 2016 Perseids display was considered an “outburst” of grand proportion with 200 meteors per hour, this year will offer a lesser 150 per hour, said Bill Cooke, lead for NASA Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Ala.
A normal year for the Perseids would have between 80 to 100 meteors each hour, although not all will be visible by the naked eye. Still, the Perseids is considered runner-up in number and brilliance only to the Geminid shower in December.
“There is still a little bit more dust in the Earth’s path this year that we will run into,” Cooke said. “The Perseids tend to be fairly rich in fireballs and tend to be bright.”
Fireballs are brighter than the planet Venus, and a Perseid fireball can light up the ground like a brief spotlight during the best conditions.
While the Perseids shower radiates from the constellation Perseus, the meteors are actually debris from the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The comet orbits the sun in a large cigar-shaped motion, with Earth passing through the comet rubble every year in mid-August.
The comet sheds debris that can range from the size of a pinhead to a half-dollar, Cooke said. They slam into Earth at 37 miles per second, said Bob Berman, astronomy editor for The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
“This shower produces fast meteors,” Berman said. “That’s good because they are bright, but bad because if you are not paying close attention, you may miss them.”
This year’s show is competing with the waning gibbous moon, which was full on Monday. That means about 86 percent of the moon will be illuminated, shining a light in the night sky that may upstage the Perseids.
To avoid the moon’s intrusion, Berman suggests looking for meteors before the 10:45 p.m. moonrise. After midnight and before dawn there are typically more meteors, but because of the moon’s interference they may be harder to see.
“The real trick is keeping your eyes glued to the sky,” Berman said. “Don’t look down, don’t look at the person next to you, just keep watching the sky.”
Whether South Florida’s skies will cooperate is another thing. The National Weather Service in Miami is giving Palm Beach County a 20 percent chance of showers tonight through Saturday morning. Saturday evening’s rain chances are also 20 percent.
If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, Slooh.com is offering a live broadcast beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday.