Excellent viewing for Perseids meteor shower this weekend

Photo courtesy NASA
Photo courtesy NASA

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - One of the best celestial shows around will occur tonight, as the Perseids meteor shower lights up the sky.

This is the most famous of all meteor showers, likely due to the high number of meteors that can be seen in the night sky.  Fifty to eighty meteors per hour can be viewed during its peak, but in favorable locations, the number can be even higher.  "We expect to see meteor rates as high as a hundred per hour," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office.  "The Perseids always put on a good show."  

The meteor shower gets the name Perseids because it appears to radiate outward from the constellation Perseus.  To locate Perseus, look in the northern sky for an inverted "Y" shape.  The shooting stars will appear to originate from there.

The meteors we'll see this weekend are the result of Earth's passage through debris left behind by the Swift-Tuttle comet.

If you're stargazing tonight, this year's Perseid shower should be more spectacular than normal, according to NASA.  In addition to the meteor shower, you'll also be able to see the red giant star Aldebaran, which adds some color to the show.  Plus Jupiter, Venus and the crescent moon will be gathered together, surrounded by shooting stars.

The show should start shortly before midnight, but will hit its peak in the pre-dawn hours.

For the best viewing, head away from city lights and look toward the northeast during the dark hours just before sunrise.  You'll likely see three times as many meteors in rural areas.

The weather should cooperate, too.  As a cold front pushes East overnight, drier air moves in behind it.  That means the clouds should be moving out just in time.

This weekend will mark the peak of the Perseids shower, but a few meteors can be seen as late as August 22.