Perseid meteor shower 2020 brings celestial fireworks to the night sky (photos)


A Perseid meteor streaks across the sky above a group of campers at the Negev Desert near the city of Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, on Aug. 11, 2020.  (Image credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty)

The Perseid meteor shower, one of the most famous annual “shooting star” displays, reached its peak activity this week, putting on a spectacular show for skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere.

While the Perseids are typically considered to be one of the best meteor showers, with about 50 to 75 meteors per hour, this year slightly fewer meteors were visible than usual. That’s because the first-quarter moon drowned out some of the fainter meteors with its bright light. 

Despite some interference by moonlight, photographers around the world managed to capture plenty of beautiful photos of Perseid meteors streaking through the night sky. 

Related: Top 10 Perseid meteor shower facts

The Perseid meteor shower happens every year from mid-July to late August, when Earth passes through the stream of debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which circles the sun about once every 135 years. 

While the meteor shower is active for about five weeks, it reaches its peak activity every year around Aug. 12, according to the American Meteor Society. This year, the Perseids peaked before dawn on Wednesday (Aug. 12), but the view was better late Tuesday night (Aug. 11) before the moon rose and began to outshine the dimmer meteors. 

A Perseid meteor dashes across the Milky Way in this photo taken by Barbara Matthews in Northern California, on Aug. 11, 2020. (Image credit: Courtesy of Barbara Matthews)

In the photo above, taken by astrophotographer Barbara Matthews in Humboldt County, California on Tuesday (Aug. 11), a brilliant pink-and-green meteor streaks across the starry night sky near the glittering Milky Way galaxy. Visible to the left of the Milky Way is the bright planet Jupiter, with Saturn shining a bit more faintly to its left. 

Matthews captured this image at 10:30 p.m. local time, or about 90 minutes before moonrise, when the sky was free of obstructing moonlight. 

Tyler Leavitt captured this photo of a meteor over the desert near Las Vegas during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, on Aug. 11-12, 2020. (Image credit: Courtesy of Tyler Leavitt)

In the Nevada desert, near Las Vegas, astrophotographer Tyler Leavitt captured his own gorgeous views of Perseid meteors and the Milky Way. 

In the image above, a pink-and-green meteor streaks into view from the left side of the frame, while Jupiter and Saturn glow side-by-side in the center. A second photo by Leavitt, below, shows a meteor appearing to head straight toward Jupiter. 

A Perseid meteor streaks toward the bright planet Jupiter (and its dimmer companion Saturn) in this photo taken by Tyler Leavitt near Las Vegas, during the meteor shower’s peak on Aug. 11-12, 2020. (Image credit: Courtesy of Tyler Leavitt)

While meteors often appear as white “shooting stars” prancing across the night sky, they can also glow with brilliant colors like pink, green, orange and purple. 

The color of a meteor’s trail depends on its chemical composition; as a meteor burns up in the atmosphere, elements like calcium, sodium and iron begin to ionize, producing a colorful glow. Perseids are known to produce bright pink-and-green trails, while the Geminid meteor shower in December tends to produce meteors with turquoise trails.

Related: How to see the best meteor showers of 2020

A Perseid meteor streaks across the sky over the ancient city of Blaundus in Usak, Turkey, on Aug. 13, 2020. (Image credit: Alibey Aydin/Anadolu Agency/Getty)

If you missed the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, it’s not too late to catch it! The shower will remain active until around Aug. 26, according to the American Meteor Society. 

To look for the meteors, you’ll want to find a dark sky away from city lights. Perseid meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus (hence the name). Moonlight could still obstruct some of the fainter meteors, but the moon is currently waning, so the night sky will gradually get darker until the new moon next Tuesday (Aug. 18). 

Editor’s note: If you snap an amazing photo or video of 2020 Perseid meteor shower and would like to share it with Space.com for a possible story or gallery, send images and comments to spacephotos@space.com

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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