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How to catch the peak of the dazzling 2018 Perseid meteor shower

The biggest shooting-star show of the year is preparing to peak, and conditions will be near perfect for viewing.

perseid-nasa-still.png

The Perseids as seen from the International Space Station.

NASA

There's a way for everyone to watch the spectacular Perseids on Saturday and Sunday night as the annual meteor shower reaches its height.

One of the best shooting-star shows of the year (at least in the northern hemisphere) is probably best seen in North America from the northern Great Plains and Great Lakes region where skies should be clear.

Few clouds will obscure the view in much of the western half of the continent. However, smoke and haze from California wildfires might make for less than ideal conditions in the western US. In Europe, the eastern European nations may offer some of the clearest skies.

Even if the sky isn't clear where you are, it's possible to watch a live webcast of the meteor shower anywhere via the Slooh observatory.

The Perseids are set to peak late Sunday, Aug. 12, into the early morning of Monday, Aug. 13, but the spectacle is already beginning to heat up in the dark, mostly moonless evenings. 

The peak will coincide roughly with the new moon (meaning the moon is absent from the night sky) on Saturday evening as Earth drifts through the most dense part of a cloud of cosmic debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which passes by our planet and the sun once every 133 years.

perseid-path-aug-12-13

Every year, in mid-August, Earth passes collides with particles spread along the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle.

Sky and Telescope

The Perseids appear to emanate from between the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia, but to catch them there's really no need to worry about which direction you're looking. Find a comfortable spot with as a wide a view of the night sky as possible, preferably away from light pollution, and just relax, lie back and look up. Don't forget to allow some time for your eyes to adjust to the dark.

During the maximum, or peak, Sunday night and early Monday morning, it could be possible to catch as many as 110 meteors in an hour, or nearly two per minute on average. Astronomy Magazine recommends getting up early to try viewing the shower in the last dark hour before dawn, but it's worth looking up at any hour after dusk.  

Part of the reason the Perseids really sizzle in the summer sky in the northern hemisphere isn't the seasonal heat, but rather their speed, which can be nearly 60 kilometers per second (134,000 miles per hour).

There's no need to worry about meteors raining down on you, though, as Sky and Telescope says the bright streaks of the Perseids burning up are actually about 80 miles (128,748 meters) above your head and created by pieces of space debris about the size of a small pebble.

First published Aug. 8, 2:26 p.m. PT. 
Update, Aug. 11 at 1:35 p.m.: Adds new weather info and more on the weekend show. 

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