NASA calls the annual Perseids meteor shower the best of the year, thanks to the many bright meteors that streak across the night sky.
This year, the Perseids shower is predicted to peak on August 11 and 12, according to EarthSky. On those nights, people could see up to 100 meteors per hour as Earth plows through a cloud of cometary debris. That dwarfs the rate of meteors during all other annual showers.
But the Perseids are active for about 40 days every summer — between July 14 and August 24 this year. So starting this week, there should be some meteor activity each night starting shortly after twilight.
The Perseid meteors are known both for their epic “fireballs” — explosions of light and color that last longer than those from typical meteors — and for the long trails they leave behind.
Here’s how to see the meteor shower.
No need for binoculars or telescopes
The Perseids are especially visible in the Northern Hemisphere but can be glimpsed across the globe. To maximize your chances of seeing them, find a dark spot with a clear view of a cloudless, open sky. The area should be as far away from light sources as possible.
The shower can be seen starting around 9 pm local time. That’s just after twilight, when you can expect long-tailed meteors lower in the sky. The best time to see the show, however, is around 2 am, since more meteors are visible in the pre-dawn hours.
You can spot the Perseids with your naked eye — in fact, NASA recommends against using telescopes or binoculars, since these instruments only show a small part of the sky at a time and meteors can come from any direction.
It helps to set aside half an hour or so to let your eyes adjust to the dark, NASA says. Avoid looking at your phone because the bright light from the screen can mess with your ability to see more faint meteors.
The Perseids meteor shower peaks around mid-August every year, but last year, the moon was in its last quarter phase and rose just before the peak of the shower. So its brightness reduced the number of visible meteors.
This year however, the crescent moon will only be about 13% illuminated by the sun on August 11 and 12. That should make it easier to see more meteors.
Where the Perseids come from
The annual shower gets its name from the constellation Perseus, which is where the meteors appear to originate in the sky.
But Perseus isn’t really the source of the celestial light show. Instead, the Perseids happen when Earth’s orbit takes it through a lane of space debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle. Bits of rocky debris the sizes of sand grains and peas slam into our atmosphere at 37 miles per second (about 133,000 miles per hour). As they burn up, they leave fiery streaks across the night sky.
It takes more than a month for Earth to pass through Swift-Tuttle’s wake, which is why the Perseids last so long. The meteor shower’s peak comes when our planet moves through the densest part of the comet’s debris trail.