The most famous of all annual meteor showers, the Perseids, is set to peak overnight August 12, but it will have to do battle with a brilliant moon.
A veritable ritual for summer stargazers, the Perseids are considered one of nature's best fireworks shows, with dozens of shooting stars an hour falling at peak times. This year, however, the full moon officially occurred only two days before the shower is scheduled to put in its top performance.
Viewing will be even trickier because on Sunday, we had the closest perigee full moon of 2014—a so-called extra-supermoon.
Keen sky-watchers should not be daunted, though. With clear skies, there should be plenty of shooting stars to make wishes on.
"This year, the moon will be just two days past full on the peak night, so moonlight will fill the sky," said Alan MacRobert, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope, in a press statement.
"The moonlight will hide many of the fainter meteors. The brightest ones, though, will still shine through."
The Perseids grace our skies when Earth plows into a stream of fragments—ranging in size from sand grains to boulders—left behind by a comet. These particles slam into the atmosphere at speeds of 100,000 miles (160,000 kilometers) an hour, causing the meteors to burn up in the upper atmosphere, which produces a momentary streak across the overhead skies, known as a shooting star. (Related: "Perseids Quiz: Are You a Meteor Shower Mastermind?")
"Relax, be patient, and let your eyes adapt to the dark," MacRobert advised.
"Even with the moonlight, you'll probably see a 'shooting star' at least every five minutes or so on average."
When is the best viewing time?
Because the Perseids' official peak occurs around 12 a.m. GMT on August 13 (8 p.m. EDT on August 12), observers in Europe will be best positioned to observe the most meteors in the predawn hours, when the shower's radiant is above the local northeastern horizon.
North Americans and Asians will have pre- and post-peak times for viewing, beginning late Monday (August 11) night into the predawn hours of Wednesday (August 13), and then again later, after nightfall. Due to the orbit of the shower's parent comet, the Perseids are primarily a Northern Hemisphere sky show. Sky-watchers in the Southern Hemisphere will have the chance to observe the shower, but it won't be as brilliant.
With the moon in the way, are there any special observing tips?
Simply face away from the moon and lie back on the ground or on a reclining lawn chair and just soak in the overhead sky with your naked eyes.
The moon will be in the southwest skies, but the meteors will appear to radiate out from the low northeast sky, so it still should be a good show. You may want to try and get outside before the moonrise, when the sky is a bit darker.
And remember: You don't need binoculars or telescopes—take in as much of the sky as possible. Look for streaks of light that zip across the sky in less than a second.
The only equipment needed is a blanket or reclining lawn chair and some hot chocolate.
Where in the sky will the shooting stars appear?
The meteors will appear to radiate out from the shower's namesake constellation, Perseus, which rises after midnight in the northeastern sky. Face the northeast starting at nightfall to catch a few straggler Perseids.
How many shooting stars will be visible?
Typically, if sky conditions are dark, you can expect to see between 60 and 100 meteors an hour. The time of night and your proximity to dark skies are factors that may substantially affect what you can see.
This year, because of the moon's bright glare competing with the Perseids, expect to see only the brightest two to three dozen an hour away from the city. From suburban skies, expect rates to drop anywhere from a half to a third as many shooting stars.
Don't forget to watch for fireballs—unusually bright meteors—that should be easily visible even with the moon in the sky.
For more sky events, check out our weekly skywatching column.