A special cosmic gift will add to this weekend’s acclaimed Perseid meteor shower, which is considered one of the most reliable and robust celestial shows of the year.
The attention-hogging moon will be just past new, meaning less lunar light pollution to obscure the Perseids — an omission that won’t happen again during this shower until 2021.
Saturday after 11 p.m. through Sunday morning, and again Sunday night through early Monday will be the best viewing times for the shower named for Perseus, a mythical monster slayer and Greek hero.
The Perseids are generally active from late July through Aug. 24, but peak Saturday through Monday.
The shower gets going in South Florida as the constellation Perseus comes up over the northeastern horizon, which is about 11 p.m., said J. Kelly Beatty, senior editor for Sky and Telescope.
“The very early ones are skimming through the atmosphere and can create really dramatic fireballs,” Beatty said. “If you are looking from a very dark site, like the middle of the Everglades, you might see one every minute, but if not, it might be one every 10 to 15 minutes.”
The best viewing conditions — generally a dark area away from the city lights — can be hard to come by in South Florida, but a drive to Lake Okeechobee or even a stroll on the beach may suffice. Also, the website Slooh will live webcast the shower to its members beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday. Memberships are available at Slooh.com.
The Perseid shower is considered runner-up in quantity and brilliance only to the Geminid shower in December, and is known for being fairly rich in fireballs. Fireballs are brighter than the planet Venus.
A NASA analysis of all-sky images taken from 2008 to 2013 shows that the Perseids deliver more bright meteors than any other annual meteor shower, according to Sky & Telescope.
Debris from the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle is the source of the Perseids. 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.
“The moonless sky this year means the viewing will be excellent, and the shower’s predicted peak is timed especially well for North America,” said Sky & Telescope Observing Editor Diana Hannikainen in a press release. “Under a very dark sky, you might see up to one Perseid per minute late on Sunday night or after midnight on Monday morning.”
Whether South Florida’s skies will cooperate with viewing the Perseids is in question.
After a bout of Saharan air dried out the atmosphere mid-week, showers were expected to return Friday afternoon and extend through the weekend in a more typical summer pattern.
The National Weather Service in Miami is forecasting a 30 percent chance of rains today and tonight for much of Palm Beach County with a daytime high temperature of 91. The heat index, or “feels like” temperature could hit 103 today.
Sunday also has a 30 percent chance of showers with the possibility of thunderstorms. The high temperature Sunday should be in the high 80s to low 90s.