National Geographic News
This year's Perseid meteor shower—which got underway this week—will light up the night for about two weeks, with the event's peak happening late on Sunday, astronomers announced.
"It's going to be a great show," Bill Cooke, of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, said in a news release.
"The moon is new on August 12—which means no moonlight, dark skies, and plenty of meteors." But even with the lack of moonlight, experts recommend getting out of light-filled cities for the best view.
Skywatchers should already be able to see dozens of "shooting stars" an hour, with as many as one or two a minute during the shower's peak on Sunday.
As an added bonus, this year's moonless sky will offer a clear view of Mars just below the constellation Perseus, and several meteors will likely flit past the shining red "star" on August 12 and 13.
(Related: See red planet images from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor.)
Each meteor is actually a pebble-size particle left behind in the wake of the large comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun about every 130 years.
Although the comet last passed by Earth in 1992, our planet sweeps through the orbiter's trail of debris every August.
(Related: "Comet Wiped Out Early North American Culture, Animals, Study Says" [May 23, 2007].)
The tiny pieces of debris hit Earth's atmosphere at a blinding 132,000 miles (212,000 kilometers) an hour, burning up and creating bright white streaks that are visible with the naked eye.
Named because they appear to originate from Perseus, the Perseid shower is mostly visible from the Northern Hemisphere.
Southern countries such as Australia rarely see any Perseid meteors.
Free Email News Updates
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES