A Perseid. Photo: ESO/Wikimedia Commons
The best nights to see the best meteor shower of the year will start this weekend, according to NASA. The agency has released a video guide (below) that says the prime viewing nights for the Perseid meteor shower are from August 11 through August 13. "We expect to see meteor rates as high as a hundred per hour," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The Perseids always put on a good show."
The Perseid meteor shower occurs each August when the earth passes through the debris left by the Swift-Tuttle comet, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. As particles of ice and dust left by the comet collide with the earth's atmosphere, they burn up. The display can be seen anytime after 10 or 11 o'clock at night, but is best viewed at darker times a few hours before dawn. Rural areas, where there is less light pollution, offer better viewing conditions. NASA has included sky maps on its website so you know where to look. This year, stargazers will be able to see a crescent moon, Jupiter, and Venus at the same time as the meteor shower.
If you're planning to count the meteors, NASA wouldn't mind your help. They have created a free app that you can download on your iPhone or Android device. They will use the information from citizen scientists to monitor and possibly model the debris stream.
If you want to learn more about the meteor shower as it happens, NASA is hosting a live chat from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. on the night of August 11 and will show a live video feed of the shower, if for some reason you'd rather watch it on your laptop.