The best summertime meteor shower — the Perseids — will be coming to a sky near you next week, weather permitting.
Higher-than-usual rates of about 150 meteors per hour are expected this year, but "the increased number will be canceled out by the bright moon, the light of which will wash out the fainter Perseids," said NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke.
The peak time for the shower is expected on the nights of Aug. 11 and 12, according to Space.com. The moon will be about three-quarters full then.
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. Last year an outburst of over 200 meteors per hour occurred, Cooke said.
The Leonid meteor storms, which occur each November, of the late 1990s and early 2000s were much more spectacular, he said, and had rates 10 times greater than the best Perseid display.
The greatest meteor shower in U.S. history occurred with the Leonids on Nov. 12, 1833, with 20 to 30 meteors per second.
What's best 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," EarthSky.org Bruce 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 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, said Vincent Perlerin of 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.
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."