Every August, just when many people go vacationing in the country where skies are dark, the best-known meteor shower, makes its appearance.
This year, the Perseid meteor shower is expected to reach its peak overnight on Monday (Aug. 12), and there are some key tips to keep in mind for your "shooting stars" viewing.
Peak activity for the Perseids is unfortunately predicted for the daylight hours across North America, so stargazers with clear skies are encouraged to seek out the meteor display during the pre-dawn hours of Monday and again during the early morning hours of Tuesday (Aug. 13). At these times, the absence of bright moonlight can maximize your chances of spotting a meteor. [See 2013 Perseid meteor shower photos by stargazers (Gallery)]
At mid-northern latitudes, moonset on Sunday evening (Aug. 11) occurs at about 10:15 p.m. local time and around 10:50 p.m. the following night. Since dawn doesn't break until around 4:30 a.m. local time that means there will be between five-and a-half to six hours of dark, moonless skies for the two best viewing nights for the Perseids.
Take full advantage of this year's favorable lunar circumstances. Next year, a bright waning gibbous moon will flood the after-midnight night sky with its light and seriously hinder the Perseids.
Perseids: the remains of a comet
We know today that the Perseid meteor shower is actually created by the remains of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. Discovered back in 1862, this comet takes approximately 130 years to circle the sun. And in much the same way that the Comet Tempel-Tuttle leaves a trail of debris along its orbit to produce the Leonid meteor shower of November, Comet Swift-Tuttle produces a similar debris trail along its orbit to cause the Perseids display. [Top 10 Perseid Meteor Shower Facts]
Every year during mid-August, the Earth passes near the orbit of Swift-Tuttle and crosses the comet's debris stream. The comet material left behind then ram's into our atmosphere at approximately 37 miles per second (about 133,000 mph/214,000 km/h) to create bright streaks of light in our mid-summer night skies.