How to watch the stunning Perseid meteor shower at its peak brilliance

Twinkle, twinkle.
Twinkle, twinkle.
Image: Reuters/Ethan Miller
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Dust off your lawn chairs. The most visually stunning meteor shower of the year is about to reach peak activity over the next 2 to 3 days. According to NASA, during peak hours that vary by region, viewers will be able to see up to 100 meteors an hour zooming overhead at 37 miles (about 60 km) per second. In April, NASA said on its Asteroid Watch page that “[i]f you see one meteor shower this year, make it August’s Perseids or December’s Geminids.”

The Perseids borrow their name from the Perseus constellation, first catalogued by Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. The annual meteor shower, which usually takes place during July and August, is the result of falling debris from large comet Swift-Tuttle, which si twice the size of the comet that is believed to have taken out the dinosaurs. The Earth crosses the orbital path of Swift-Tuttle about once a year during the summer, but the bulk of the comet’s debris typically rains down after the first week in August. The meteors will appear to originate from the direction of the constellation, which is meant to resemble the Greek hero Perseus, but in reality they share no connection to the Perseus constellation.

The Perseids boast fast and bright meteors that regularly leave trains, the white tails of light that lag behind meteors in the sky. During this year’s meteor shower there will be no moonlight to detract from their glow, because the shower is happening during a new moon. (During a new moon, the side of the moon that faces Earth is completely dark, causing less light pollution and making it easier to see other objects in the sky.)

The view from less light-intensive areas (as in, places unlike New York’s Times Square) won’t require any fancy tech to appreciate the shower; everything will be viewable with the naked eye. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, experts recommend watching the shower just after midnight on Aug. 12 and 13.