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5 Top Tips for Enjoying the Perseid Meteor Shower

Make the most of the celestial fireworks show that peaks early this week.

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Hundreds of astronomy lovers gather in Canary Islands, Spain, to watch an annual meteor shower caused when the Earth crosses Comet Swift-Tuttle's tail.

Perseid meteor shower watchers are taking to social media to share experiences and photos from what's expected to be the year's best cosmic fireworks.

The annual meteor shower is expected be especially vivid this year because the moon is out of the way during peak times—the overnight hours from Sunday, August 11, to Tuesday, August 13. As many as 60 to 100 meteors per hour from a dark location may be in the offing. (Gallery: "Photographing the Night Sky.")

Tweeted @Billytoledo: "Unexpected clear skies in Atlanta. Saw 23 meteors in about 45 minutes. All diff sizes, brightness, and angles."

Advised @BethFalkWrites: "Quick glimpse of #Perseids from my window last night incl. one spectacular bright meteor. Every time I see one I still feel like it's magic."

Some made meteor viewing a family affair. "It was well worth getting the kids out of bed at 3am to watch the #perseids, quite a show and they loved it," tweeted @SugarbushWines in Ontario, Canada. "Try again tonight."

Five quick tips on getting the most out of your meteor-watching experience:

1. There's no need for binoculars or telescopes to enjoy the celestial fireworks—unaided eyes will do just fine. Because meteors can appear to streak across large parts of the sky, the human eye is the ideal viewing device. (Related: "Tips for Enjoying the Perseid Meteor Shower.")

2. Give your eyes at least 15 to 20 minutes to adapt to the darkness of night when you step outside to view the shower. Try to avoid looking at any white lights while under the stars.

Flashlights, porch lights, and headlamps shining into your eyes can set you back as much as 30 minutes in terms of your night-adapted vision. As an alternative, use a red colored flashlight outdoors; the red color does not interfere with your night vision.

It's easy to rig your own red light: Take a few layers of red cellophane gift wrapping and secure it to the end of the flashlight with a rubber band.

3. Seek out a dark location with as little light pollution as possible. The darker the better. More of the fainter meteors will be visible from the countryside, away from city lights.

But even from a suburban backyard or municipal park where there is no direct light, at least 10 to 30 shooting stars per hour should be visible under clear skies.

4. While meteors may start appearing soon after darkness falls, the best time to watch the Perseids is between midnight and the predawn hours. Not only are those the darkest hours, best for glimpsing fainter shooting stars, but the radiant of the Perseids in the Perseus star constellation appears to rise above the northeast horizon, allowing for higher density of meteors spreading out from that part of the sky.

5. Taking a snapshot of a Perseid meteor involves some patience and luck. All you need is a tripod-mounted DSLR camera that can take exposures of 15 seconds or more. Use as wide a lens as possible to capture as much of the overhead sky as possible. Use an ISO 400 setting to pick up the fainter shooting stars, and set the remote timer so as to eliminate any shaking of the camera.

Remember that it can take many minutes before a single meteor may cross your frame. So experiment with images lasting up to 30 to 40 seconds each and keep snapping images as long as possible.

Can't see the meteor shower from where you live? Watch NASA's live stream tonight until 3 a.m.

For more sky events check out our weekly skywatching column.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.