August 11th, 2010
03:57 PM ET

The best celestial show of the year starts tonight

A Perseid meteor in 1997.

Catching the Perseid meteor shower after Wednesday night is going to be as easy as lying on your back on the lawn.

With a waxing crescent moon expected to set before the meteor shower peaks on Thursday night and Friday morning, and hence less moonlight in the way, forecasters are expecting one of the best celestial shows of the year.

Weather permitting, stargazers might be able to catch at least 80 meteors per hour, NASA said.

"The August Perseids are among the strongest of the readily observed annual meteor showers, and at maximum activity nominally yields 90 to 100 meteors per hour," SPACE.com skywatching columnist Joe Rao explained in his column. "Anyone in a city or near bright suburban lights will see far fewer."

According to the best estimates, the Earth will cut through the densest part of the Perseid stream about 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, SPACE.com reported.

The best window of opportunity to see the shower will be the late-night hours of Wednesday through first light Thursday, and then again during the late-night hours of August 12 into the predawn hours of August 13.

The Perseids can be seen all over the sky, but the best viewing opportunities will be across the northern hemisphere. Those with sharp eyes will see that the meteors radiate from the direction of the constellation Perseus.

The Perseid meteor announced its August arrival with a big bang. A massive fireball blazed across the skies in Alabama on August 3. The meteor, about an inch in diameter and moving at 134,000 mph, entered the Earth’s atmosphere 70 miles above the town of Paint Rock, Alabama.

The “Earth grazer,” which was six times brighter than the planet Venus, cut a path 65 miles long, finally burning up 56 miles above Macay Lake, NASA said.

The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. Each August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet's debris. These bits of ice and dust - most over 1,000 years old - burn up in the Earth's atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year.

NASA has a live chat on Thursday with astronomer Bill Cooke about the shower and how best to catch it. It is also broadcasting live the hums of the meteors as they whiz by.

Did you catch the metor shower? Share you photos and stories on iReport.

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soundoff (One Response)
  1. Travis

    Viewing times for Perseids Meteor Shower on this site: http://www.tabwin.com/perseids/
    Can't wait for the show!

    August 11, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |