Perseid Meteor Shower 2009: Don’t Miss Tonight’s Show

With up to 100 shooting stars an hour, the celestial light show peaks tonight.

Perseids

[Fred Bruenjes]

As tonight bleeds into tomorrow morning, the earth will be hurtling through a long skein of dust and rocks. Lucky for us, the result of our bombardment will not be annihilation, but rather one of the richest natural light shows of the year—the Perseid meteor shower. Here's how to watch.

The Perseids (named for the constellation Perseus and the spot where they appear to originate in the sky) grace us once a year as the earth passes through a trail of dust and ice particles spewed out in the wake of the comet Swift-Tuttle.

If you've never caught it before, tonight is slated to be a good showing for the shower, marred only by a gibbous moon. For best viewing, get away from city lights and lie down in the darkest place you can find either during tomorrow's early morning hours, or after sundown tonight (but before the moon rises high in the sky—around 10 or 11 PM.)

Shooting stars are supposed to peak between midnight and dawn August 12th as the earth rotates in the direction of it's own spin, catching more bits and pieces, though the large Moon may obscure some of the show. In the late hours of August 11th meanwhile, the Moon will still be low in the sky and flashes should be brighter, but less frequent. A good strategy might be to time your viewing to try to catch the best of both conditions.

Perseid meteoroids enter the earth's atmosphere at 133,200 mph, reaching up to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit as they burn up. An extra boon to viewing earlier in the evening is the possibility of seeing some "Earthgrazers", meteors that skim the atmosphere like a skipped stone leaving a long, colorful tail.

Don't forget to bring a pillow.