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article imageHow to see the Perseid meteor shower that peaks this week

By Caroline Leopold     Aug 10, 2015 in Science
The annual Perseid meteor shower will reach its peak this week during a new moon, giving amateur stargazers dark skies to view a dazzling array of "shooting stars."
For those who want to see the Perseid meteor shower — one of the most spectacular celestial events — here is a guide to where, when and how to look for meteors hitting the Earth's atmosphere.
About the Perseid meteor shower
Every year, Earth’s orbit around the Sun crosses a cloud of rocky debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle, according to Gizmodo. When those rocks burn up in our atmosphere, they create the bright streaks of light we call meteors.
Earth travels for a month through the Swift-Tuttle’s cloud, but the meteor shower becomes most visible and spectacular when passing through the densest section of debris. That is when skywatchers have their best chance of seeing a light show, which is happening during the overnight hours of Wednesday (Aug. 12) to Thursday (Aug 13).
When and where to look?
The peak is after midnight on Wednesday to Thursday at daybreak, but good displays may be seen all this week. So, if the weather isn't good one night, there is still a chance to see meteorites shoot across the sky. The best time to see meteors is in clear, dark sky away from light pollution. A new moon coincides with the shower's peak, which offers the dark sky that is favorable to seeing flashes of meteors.
While very late at night is the best time to see meteors, EarthSky said that skywatchers may view a rare "earthgrazer" during the early evening hours. These meteors move slowly in a horizontal course across the sky.
Direction of the perseids in the night sky
Direction of the perseids in the night sky
For those who don't want to stay up past midnight, it's fine to start watching right after dark. Astronomer Phil Platt, writing for Slate, reminds skywatchers that it will take a few minute for eyes to adjust to the dark. So, it may take some time to begin to see meteorites.
The meteors seem to come from within the constellation of Perseus, near the W-shape of Cassiopeia. That is why the meteor shower is named after this constellation. Once you spot the constellation, then pull up a lounge chair or blanket and watch the sky.
What you should expect to see?
At their peak, the Perseids send about 60 to 100 meteors per hour in an irregular pattern. You will probably not see all of them, especially in areas with a lot of light. You may wait minutes to see a meteor or a string of them seconds apart.
Despite their brilliant appearance, meteors are very small and almost never hit the Earth. You shouldn't fear getting hit by a meteorite, according to the American Meteor Society. Instead, they disintegrate in the atmosphere.
More about Perseid meteor shower, shooting stars, SwiftTuttle comet, Meteorite
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