The best summertime meteor shower – the Perseids – will be coming to a sky near you this coming weekend, weather permitting.
During the Perseids' peak on the nights of Aug. 11-12 and Aug. 12-13, skywatchers should see about 60 to 70 meteors per hour, Space.com said. The best views will come before dawn on the 13th, Astronomy magazine predicts.
An added bonus is that moonlight will not interfere with the spectacle this year. "The moon will be near new moon, it will be a crescent, which means it will set before the Perseid show gets underway after midnight," NASA's Bill Cooke told Space.com.
Earthsky's Bruce McClure said "it should be an awesome year to watch the Perseids!"
At best, a typical Perseid meteor shower produces 80 to a few hundred meteors per hour. The best Perseid performance we know of occurred in 1993, when the peak rate topped 300 meteors per hour, Cooke said.
What's great about the Perseids is they can be enjoyed during summer's warmth, unlike the often nippy nights during the Leonids of November or Geminids of December. "This major shower takes place during the lazy, hazy days of summer, when many families are on vacation," McClure said.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year when the Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The meteors are actually tiny dust and particles from the tail of the comet as it orbits around the sun.
The particles, many no bigger than a grain of sand or a pea, blast across the sky at some 132,000 mph and disintegrate high up in our atmosphere after making a brilliant flash of light.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation out of which they appear to come, according to the American Meteor Society. Look for the constellation Perseus in the northeastern portion of the sky. It's just to the left of the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters constellation.
In ancient Greek star lore, Perseus is the son of the god Zeus and the mortal Danae, according to Earthsky. It is said that the Perseid shower commemorates the time when Zeus visited Danae, the mother of Perseus, in a shower of gold.
No special equipment is needed to enjoy this nighttime spectacle, just a dark sky and some patience. "Remember, your eyes can take as long as 20 minutes to truly adapt to the darkness of night," McClure said. "So don’t rush the process."