Annual meteor shower to peak this weekend

Perseid meteor shower

Dr. Bill Cooke with NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells CBS News that this year, spectators will be in store for a better watching experience due to diminished moonlight -- or in his words: "We won't have any moon messing it up". Be sure to check your local weather forecast.

NASA said: "The Perseid meteor shower is here!"

The Perseids are one of the more active meteor showers on stargazers" calendars, producing an average of between 60 and 100 "shooting stars' an hour at their peak.

If you'd rather watch the Perseid meteor shower from the comfort of your own home, the Virtual Telescope Project is live broadcasting the shower from scenic Castel Santa Maria, Italy, beginning at 4:30 p.m. EST on August 12.

The meteor shower is made up of particles that crumbled away from the 26 kilometre (16 mile) wide comet as it zooms in and out of the inner Solar System.

As the night nears dawn, Cooke says viewers can expect to see a meteor every minute or so, which is about standard for the Perseids. "You should be able to see some meteors from July 17 to August 24, with the rates increasing during the weeks before August 12 and decreasing after the 13th", NASA said in a skywatching video.

Why does a meteor shower occur?

The Perseid shower is named after the constellation of Perseus.

The phenomenon is caused by debris from the tail of the Swift-Tuttle comet entering the Earth's atmosphere and burning up, appearing as bright streaks of light crossing the sky. "During a meteor shower the Earth collides with that debris and very small pieces burn up in the upper atmosphere creating the show".

What else should I look out for in the sky?

Best of all, constellations and the Milky Way should be highly visible due to a New Moon on August 11, meaning there will not be as much light to drown out the stars. Best viewing times will be between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.

When is the next meteor shower?

The ramp up to the peak begins overnight Friday into Saturday morning, but the greatest number of visible meteors comes over the weekend. That's when the earth will have turned into the meteor stream, which means the show will be just above the horizon line.

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