Published: Aug. 3, 2023 By

The annual Perseids meteor shower peaks Aug. 11–13. Fiske Planetarium's “starting, relief and closing pitcher” Manager Francisco “Tito” Salas is sharing his expertise on the upcoming celestial event. 

The shower's peak times will be from midnight on Aug. 11 to dawn on Aug. 13. Viewers can expect about 50–70 shooting stars per hour during this time. 

Francisco "Tito" Salas

Fiske Planetarium Manager Francisco “Tito” Salas

What is Perseids? 

Perseids, pronounced “pur-see-id,” is the name of the meteors in the shower. They get their name because they come from the same direction as the constellation Perseus. 

Behind the constellation is a prominent tale in Greek mythology. 

“Perseus is a mythological Greek character,” Salas said. “Perseus is the one who killed Medusa. When he cut her head, that's how he was able to kill the sea monster. And you know what happens when you see Medusa's head? You transform into a rock.” 

What causes the meteor shower? 

The Perseids meteor shower is caused by debris hitting the Earth’s atmosphere. The debris, made up of rocks and dust particles, is dragged into our solar system by a comet. Some of the bits following the comet stay in our solar system, even after it has exited.

While moving through the solar system, planets can run into debris left behind by comets. When Earth hits it, it enters our atmosphere and becomes a “shooting star.” During the Perseids meteor shower, Earth runs into a lot of debris coming from the direction of Perseus. 

“The best analogy is: When you're driving in a snowstorm—you see the flakes coming from one direction. Now what happens if you stop? Then you see the flakes just falling. But, as soon you start going, you start gaining speed and drive into the storm,” Salas said.

“Then it looks like the flakes are coming from one direction. That's exactly what is happening in a meteor shower. As the Earth revolves around the sun it is going into the comet's tail, the debris.”

This year’s Perseids meteor shower will peak Aug. 11–13.

 Stargazing tools

 Getting involved at CU Boulder

Meteors vs. meteorites

There is a distinction between meteors and meteorites. Meteors do not hit the Earth and meteorites do, Salas said. 

“If it doesn't burn out all the way and enter the Earth’s atmosphere, that's when it can hit the Earth's surface,” Salas said. “And that's when it's called a meteorite.”

If the meteor does make it through the Earth's atmosphere and becomes a meteorite, it will likely hit the ocean, Salas said. But, meteorites can be harmful if they land in a city or town, such as New York City. 

Peekskill, New York, was involved in one of the rare instances where a meteorite made it through the atmosphere. On Oct. 9, 1992, a meteorite the size of a bowling ball came down on a Chevy Malibu. Although no one was harmed, if the meteorite had hit a building, it could have caused more widespread damage. 

Viewing tips 

Salas recommends that onlookers stay away from city lights while viewing the shower. The best place to watch is from an open field. Looking toward the constellation of Perseus, viewers will get the best view without any tools and just the naked eye. 

“Make sure that you know the constellation to look for,” Salas said. “Once you start looking toward the eastern plains, then you will start seeing the meteors.”

There are plenty of ways to stargaze

Whether you're at home or at an observatory, stargazing is fun for everyone. Check out Sommers-Bausch Observatory for more information and viewing opportunities. Fiske Planetarium also has information about astronomy, meteor showers and more! They put on various shows and tickets can be purchased online.

About Tito 

Salas, operations manager for the planetarium, has spent 27 years at the planetarium where he began working as a CU student. He has been interested in astronomy and stargazing since he was a child. Now, he gets to share that passion and knowledge with all Fiske Planetarium visitors.