The Perseids should be most visible between 3 p.m. ET on August 12 and 2 a.m. ET on August 13. A very thin, waxing crescent moon will set about an hour after sunset, leaving behind a dark night sky for the Perseid meteors to shine. (Read about another sky show this week featuring a planetary triangle.)
Observers in Europe and North America should see the most meteors at the start of the peak, while in Asia the best show should be early Friday, according to Raminder Singh Samra, resident astronomer at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia. (See asteroid and comet pictures.)
People in the Southern Hemisphere should be able to see the 2010 Perseids too, Samra said, but it won't be as brilliant as up north.
—With reporting by Andrew Fazekas
Photograph courtesy Dennis di Cicco, Sky & Telescope
A Perseid meteor enlivens a green-tinted night sky in Chisasibi, Quebec, on August 12, 2008.
Like clockwork every mid-August, Earth slams into a giant cloud of debris left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle's close passes of the sun, which occur every 130 years or so. (Related: "Perseid Meteor Shower to Yield 80 Meteors an Hour?" .)
Hitting the atmosphere at speeds of almost 100,000 miles (160,000 kilometers) an hour, the Perseid meteors burn up and produce streaks of light that each last just a fraction of a second.
Photograph by Michel Tournay, My Shot
A Perseid meteor illuminates the skies over mountains north of Geneva, Switzerland, on August 12, 2009. (See more pictures of the 2009 Perseids.)
While most "shooting stars" are faint, observers of any meteor shower should be on the lookout for brighter fireballs, the space center's Samra noted.
"As the Earth passes through the dust trails of comets, it encounters debris from the size of grains of sand to [the size of] boulders," Samra said.
"When pieces of debris from the size of a grapefruit and larger enter the atmosphere, you can expect to see fireball meteors."
Photograph by Denis Balibouse, Reuters
Perseid Meteor Up Close
The Perseid meteor shower (pictured, a meteor over West Sussex, U.K., on August 12, 2009) appears to radiate from its namesake constellation Perseus, which rises above the local horizon around midnight in the northeastern sky.
Depending on location, forecasters say observers of the 2010 Perseid meteor shower can expect to see up to 30 meteors an hour in city suburbs during the shower's peak. People in darker, rural areas may see as many as 200 meteors an hour. (Take a Perseids quiz: are you a meteor shower mastermind?)
More modest rates of 10 to 20 shooting stars an hour will be visible for a couple of nights before and after the peak, experts say.
Photograph courtesy Pete Lawrence
A Perseid meteor darts over moonlit Iranian rock formations in the Elburz Mountains in an August 13, 2009 photograph.
Predicting when we'll see the most meteors is still a work in progress, as astronomers are slowly mapping out the structure of the Perseid meteor stream, according to Geza Gyuk, staff astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. (Get more Perseids facts.)
"There is a lot of 'art' involved still, and surprises are nothing to be surprised at!" Gyuk said in an email.
"In fact, that is one of the joys of trying to catch the Perseids: One never knows what sort of treat may be in store."
To spot the 2010 Perseids, look for the shooting stars to streak out from the northeast to points across the sky, especially at and after midnight—as pictured in this diagram of the August 12, 2010, night sky over the Northern Hemisphere.