Meteor-catchers heading out to watch the annual Perseid meteor shower this week are in for a special treat. In between watching the show on the north side of the sky, several planets and the moon will show themselves on the southern side.
The Perseids will peak in the early morning hours of Friday (Aug. 12), NASA says, and the show could be even stronger this year. The planet Jupiter has bent the streams of cometary particles, putting more of them in Earth's path.
Some of the meteors, which on Thursday night and early Friday (Aug. 11-12) may stream in at up to 200 per hour, will unfortunately be washed out by the moon until it sets at around 1 a.m. local time. But you can still easily see two planets in the sky, in the constellation Scorpius. Mars is just to the right of the ruddy star Antares. (The name of the star means "rival of Mars" because it is so similar in brightness and shade.) And floating above Antares is Saturn. [Perseid Meteor Shower 2016: When & How to See It]
Earlier in the evening, about 45 minutes after sunset, the planets Jupiter, Mercury and Venus will be visible low on the horizon in the south-southwest, according to NASA's Jane Houston Jones at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Jupiter will shine bright in the constellation Virgo, with Mercury hover just to its lower right. Venus, meanwhile, will be even lower on the horizon near the constellation Leo, so a clear horizon without obstructing trees or houses would offer the best viewing opportunity.
You can see the meteor shower and the two planets with your naked eye, and there are even more planets visible if you bring binoculars or a telescope. Uranus and Neptune are both visible in the constellation Aquarius, and if you want an extra challenge, the dwarf planet Ceres is visible as well. (Ceres is being visited right now by NASA's Dawn spacecraft.)
There are other celestial objects that are just visible with the naked eye, but you'll see far more detail with a telescope or binoculars. While watching the meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus, you can also look at the Double Cluster in Perseus, or globular clusters in nearby Cassiopeia. In Andromeda, you can also look at the Triangulum (M33) and Andromeda (M31) galaxies.
Editor's note: If you catch an awesome photo of the Perseid meteor shower or planets in the night sky that you'd like to share with Space.com and our news partners for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace