(WOWK/NASA) – We’re checking in on the celestial events happening for the rest of July, those are well below in this article. But the meteor showers will be cranking up here in the next few weeks and it’s our favorite time of the year!
Two meteor showers coming
Two major meteor showers are expected to peak during this lunar cycle, but only one will have good visibility from our northern mid-latitudes (weather permitting). The Southern Delta-Aquariids have been active from around July 12 all the way up to Aug. 23, peaking on July 30. This will not be a good year for viewing these meteors for two reasons. They are best seen from the Southern Hemisphere and this year moonlight from the waning half Moon will interfere with the few meteors that may appear over our more northern location.
More promising is the Perseid meteor shower. This meteor shower is expected to be active from July 17 to Aug. 24, 2021, with a broad peak centered on the afternoon of Aug. 12 between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. EDT (when we can’t see them). These meteors appear to radiate out in all directions from the constellation Perseus (hence their name). This radiant is far enough north to be relatively high in the northeast after 10 or 11 p.m. Since this shower tends to have a broad peak you may be able to see meteors either the early morning of Aug. 12 or the early morning of Aug. 13. The International Meteor Organization’s 2021 Meteor Shower Calendar indicates that past variations in the actual peak have tended to come after the predicted maximum. If this holds true this year, the best time to look from the East Coast may be from after moonset on Aug. 12 (at 10:40 p.m. for the West Virginia area) into the early morning of Aug. 13, ending when the first signs of dawn begin at about 4:40 a.m.
Under ideal conditions at its peak, the Perseids can produce about 100 visible meteors per hour, making it potentially one of the three best meteor showers of the year (the others being the Quadrantids in early January and the Geminids in mid-December). The Perseid meteor shower is caused by dust from the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle entering our atmosphere at 132,000 miles per hour (59 kilometers per second), so fast that air cannot move out of the way fast enough, and gets compressed and heated until it glows white-hot.
The best conditions for viewing these meteors would be if the weather is clear with no clouds or high hazes, you go to a place far from any light sources or urban light pollution, and you have a clear view of a wide expanse of the sky. Be sure to give your eyes plenty of time to adapt to the dark. The rod cells in your eyes are more sensitive to low light levels but play little role in color vision. Your color-sensing cone cells are concentrated near the center of your view with more of the rod cells on the edge of your view. Since some meteors are faint, you will tend to see more meteors from the “corner of your eye” (which is why you need a view of a large part of the sky). Your color vision (cone cells) will adapt to darkness in about 10 minutes, but your more sensitive night vision will continue to improve for an hour or more (with most of the improvement in the first 35 to 45 minutes). The more sensitive your eyes are, the more chance you have of seeing meteors. Even a short exposure to light (from passing car headlights, etc.) will start the adaptation over again – so no turning on a light or your cell phone to check what time it is.
Sunday night into Monday morning, July 25 to 26, 2021, the waning gibbous Moon will appear to pass below the bright planet Jupiter. The Moon will rise before midnight at 10 p.m. EDT, with Jupiter appearing about 4 degrees to the upper left of the Moon. By the time twilight begins Monday morning at 4:57 a.m., the Moon will have shifted such that Jupiter will appear about 6 degrees to the upper right of the Moon.
Wednesday evening, July 28, 2021, will be the first evening the bright planet Jupiter will appear above the horizon in the east-southeast and the last evening the bright star Regulus will appear above the horizon in the west-northwest as evening twilight ends at 7:30 p.m. EDT.
Thursday, July 29, 2021, will be the evening when the planet Mars and the bright star Regulus will appear nearest each other low on the west-northwestern horizon. Regulus will set shortly before evening twilight ends and Mars will set shortly after evening twilight ends (at least for Washington, and similar latitudes).
Friday evening, July 30, 2021, will be the last evening the planet Mars will be above the horizon in the west-northwest as evening twilight ends.
Saturday morning, July 31, 2021, the waning Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its last quarter at 9:16 a.m. EDT.