Look up to the sky on Thursday night and early Friday morning, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a bright white streak or two flying across the sky.
Look toward the sky during the same period in a dark area not affected by light pollution, and you could see dozens upon dozens of bright white streaks lighting up the sky.
That’s right, it’s the height of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Perseid meteors result from particles from Comet Swift-Tuttle, which is slowly orbiting the sun at a rate of 133 years per complete orbit.
Each year in late summer, Earth passes through the particles left behind from Swift-Tuttle; those particles result in meteors that enter the atmosphere at a speed of 20 miles per second, burning up in a fiery blaze.
Perseid meteors can be spotted from July 14 to Sept. 1, but peak on Aug. 12 as the Earth passes through the thickest stretch of debris. Between 50 to 75 meteors can be spotted during the height of the shower’s activity.
“When the Earth passes through that part of (the comet’s) orbit, all of those pieces of the comet crash into the atmosphere and burn up as they pass through the air at supersonic velocities,” Brian Jackson, an associate professor at Boise State’s Physics Department, told the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday.
“And so as they ablate in the atmosphere, they’re basically heated up and vaporized, and that makes up this really brilliant light show,” Jackson continued.
How to spot the Perseids in Idaho
The Perseids can be seen worldwide, making it one of the most-watched celestial events every year, but the best views are found in the Northern Hemisphere.
That means Idahoans are in luck.
The Perseids get their name because the radiant — the area of the sky where the comets seem to originate from — is located in the Perseus star constellation, Jackson said.
For Idahoans, Perseus appears along the northeast horizon shortly after the sun sets then rises high into the night sky. The best time to view the meteor shower will be in the early hours of Friday morning, but it’s not the only chance you’ll have.
“Pretty much any time after the sun goes down will be a pretty reasonable time, but the Perseids is one of the most active meteor showers, so it shouldn’t be one that’s too hard to see,” Jackson said. “But you want to be somewhere dark.”
That means you’ll find it hard to see any meteors in the middle of downtown Boise. But plenty of locations a short drive from the Treasure Valley will offer great viewing spots. The website Light Pollution Map shows where exactly you can escape light pollution, but Jackson also had some recommendations of his own.
Camel’s Back Park in North Boise is a spot to put the light pollution behind you and look out toward the Boise Mountains. Jackson also recommended the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve in the Sun Valley.
“There’s a big region between Stanley and Ketchum where the light pollution is as dark as anywhere in the United States; it’s actually one of the darkest places in the world,” Jackson said of the Dark Sky Reserve. “So that’s a great place to go.”
The National Weather Service in Boise forecasts partly cloudy skies for Thursday night. There will also be a full moon, meaning meteor spotting will be slightly hindered, but not enough to where you won’t be able to see anything.
The next chance to watch a significant meteor shower will be the Orionids from Sept. 26 to Nov. 22, with the peak coming Oct. 20-21.