August’s warm evenings, with overnight temperatures often remaining well into the 60s, sets up ideal conditions for viewing one of the most anticipated meteor showers of the year.

The Perseid meteor shower is a result of Earth moving through the trail of dust and debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. Comets are often referred to as dirty snowballs and as they hurl through space they leave a wake of stuff behind them. As this debris, most of which is about the size of a grain of sand, hits Earth’s atmosphere and burns up, it creates streaks of light we call shooting stars or meteors. These pieces of debris, which move at 37 miles per second (59 kilometers per second), vary in density from year to year, owing to the fact some Perseid shows are better than others.

This year Earth is passing through a particularly dense part of the debris, meaning more particles to burn up upon entering our atmosphere and therefore more meteors.  The average year will produce 60 to 80 meteors per hour, but this year the number could be 50 percent or more higher – quite a show. I’ve seen some estimates of 200 meteors per hour, and that would be pretty amazing. Like the weather, these things don’t always materialize as predicted.

Perseid meteor shower radiates from ta center point in the northeast sky

Perseid meteor shower radiates from the center point in the northeast sky

Already on clear nights you can see the meteors. What I generally recommend is finding an open and dark area to view them. The closer to a city you are, the more light pollution there will be. You can sit in a chair and face northeast, but I prefer lying flat on the ground to get a better view of the entire sky. Allow about 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust.

The peak  of the meteor shower is predicted the night of Aug. 11 into the early morning of Aug. 12. During the first part of the night, the light from a waxing gibbous moon will be interfering with seeing the show. But the moon will set in the sky during the predawn hours. If you can muster getting up early (or staying up really late), watch after moonset and before dawn on the mornings of Aug. 11, 12 and 13. If you want to watch during the peak, plan on staying up from the evening of Aug. 11 to the morning of Aug. 12. That’s when show should be at its best.

Of course none of this matters if the weather isn’t cooperating. Cloudy skies or even partly cloudy skies will prevent this from being a worthwhile experience. That’s why I recommend looking for meteors on any clear night during the next few weeks. Check the forecast before you venture out. If clear skies are predicted then you’re good to go!

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