Perseid meteor shower to peak Aug. 13 

The Perseid meteor shower, active this year from July 14 to Sept. 1, will peak at roughly 4 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 13. North Fork sky watchers can expect a better show this year over last — as long as the clouds cooperate — with little moonlight interference, thanks to a waning crescent moon at 10% illumination at the time of the peak.

The shower is estimated to produce roughly 100 meteors per hour, but “you may be able to see up to 141 meteors per hour at the shower’s peak” on the North Fork, based on data from in-the-sky.org, which offers night-sky information based on the same planetary prediction model used by NASA.

The Perseids is a popular meteor shower among sky watchers since its peak occurs on warm August nights, unlike the Geminid meteor shower, which peaks in mid-December. Experienced meteor shower enthusiasts still recommend being prepared to bundle up, since watching the meteor shower requires sitting still for an extended period at night.

Each meteor shower is connected to a specific comet, and occurs annually when the Earth passes through the comet’s trail of debris — in this case, the Swift-Tuttle comet co-discovered in 1862 by Lewis Swift of Marathon, N.Y., and Horace Parnell Tuttle of Maine. The “shooting stars” seen are particles of debris released from the comet. 

Meteor showers are also connected to a constellation, but by name only. The Perseid meteor shower gets its name because its meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Perseus.

No special equipment is needed to watch the Perseids. To see the most meteors possible, find a dark place with an open sky. Allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness for 30 minutes. To find the constellation Perseus, locate the common constellation Cassiopeia, which is shaped like a crooked W. Perseus is just south of the brightest star in Cassiopeia. There are also many mobile phone apps that map the night sky, such as StarWalk and StarTracker. Just open the app and point your phone to the sky and move it around until you find Perseus. 

North Fork sky watchers have easy access to dark, open sky at Southold’s Custer Institute and Observatory. On Aug. 12 at 8 p.m., they are celebrating with an electronic music event called “Comets, Meteors and Things That Fly By Us,” a multimedia performance by Axolotl Ensemble. According to an email from observatory president Anne Spooner, “Artists Cliff Baldwin and Rob Shepperson will perform works composed and designed specifically for this event, that reveal the unique sound of the Perseid meteors, icy asteroids and other such celestial visitors past and present using live electronics, amplified satellite dishes, percussion, live celestial video and other treats.”

Following the concert, guests will have a chance to view the Perseid meteor shower, visible to the naked eye. Observatory staff will also provide guided tours of the night sky (weather permitting) using the many telescopes on site, including the apochromatic Zerochromat telescope in Custer Institute’s historic observation dome. The event costs $20 for observatory members, $30 for nonmembers and is free for children younger than 16. Attendance will be limited so advance registration is strongly encouraged. Register at custerobservatory.org