The "shooting star"-studded Perseid meteor shower is expected to wow earthlings on Saturday night with hundreds of ancient, vaporized, dust-specks streaking the atmosphere at more then 100,000 miles per hour.
Available to anyone with a clear, dark sky, the only thing keeping you from the show is rampant air and light pollution, and whatever else you may be doing at the time.
This event is ideal star-gazing for the lazy. The Perseids, peaking late Saturday Aug. 11/early Sunday Aug. 12, provide the perfect opportunity to take in heavenly bodies sans telescope or fancy equipment. Seeing as much sky as possible is the goal, and laying down to look up is encouraged.
The Perseids are a fan favorite among celestial groupies, a popularity Senior Editor of Astronomy magazine, Michael E. Bakich, attributes to the annual spectacle's four unique elements:
- A consistently high rate of meteors year after year.
- A higher percentage of bright ones than most other showers.
- It occurs in August when many people take summer vacation.
- It happens at a time when nice weather and reasonable nighttime temperatures are common north of the equator.
The 2012 Perseid meteor shower also holds the promise of two additional advantages:
- It occurs when the Moon is at a waning crescent phase, which means bright moonlight won’t diminish the number of visible meteors.
- The shower peaks on a Saturday night.
Once you've found your post-sunset spot, look above the northeastern horizon in the direction of the constellation Perseus. The show will climb the sky as morning approaches, with the highest concentration of Lite-Brites expected in the hours just before dawn.
Not sure where to go? Check in with a local astronomy group, or create your own close encounter by heading to darkest regions of the region. For a far out experience, take a 90-minute drive in most directions to a less-littered rural, mountain, desert, or ocean sky.
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 year in 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.