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Don't miss this spectacular display in the sky this weekend!

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

This weekend provides an excellent opportunity for you to catch some falling stars as the Perseid meteor shower peaks. This legendary shower produces the brightest and best display of shooting stars each year.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend, with the greatest activity expected Sunday night. Stargazing parties have already been planned around the world for the upcoming weekend.

This meteor shower, which occurs at the same time each year, normally produces about 100 meteors per hour, although many of those require ideal conditions to view. On average, a vigilant watcher under suburban skies may still see several per hour, but nothing close to the dozens that dark-sky viewers can expect.

The Perseid meteor shower is caused by dust left in the trail of the comet Swift-Tuttle, which rounds the Sun every 133 years. Those particles of dust, left behind by the comet, strike the Earth's upper atmosphere at 37 miles per second and vaporize in a flash of light.

Since the parent comet is so large, about 16km across, it also sheds more and larger bits of material than other comets. This translates into brighter meteors during this shower than any other. The larger bits can survive all the way down to 10 to 20 miles above the Earth's surface, creating bright meteors referred to as fireballs.

A fireball is usually so bright it can cast faint shadows under dark skies.

This year's display is expected to be excellent. The moon sets around 10 p.m. on the night of August 11, when the shower peaks. Without the brightness of the moon to interfere, more meteors will be visible.

To view the shower, observers should find the darkest skies possible. Although urban viewers may see one or two per hour, it pays to travel away from the city lights where one can enjoy the full display. The best way to view the shower is lying down or reclining while looking up at the sky. Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky.

Also, don't fret if you haven't got a telescope or binoculars. Meteors are better viewed with the naked eye, so skip the fancy equipment.

Finally, the most important observing tip may be to watch in the predawn hours. Observing right at nightfall won't bring you much reward. Instead, wait until after midnight when your location on Earth is turned towards the stream of particles. The rate of meteors increases substantially after midnight.

If staying up late isn't an option, consider an early bedtime the night before and rise about 90 minutes to a couple hours before dawn twilight. That should provide you with a solid hour or more of excellent predawn viewing. As a plus, temperatures outside tend to be coolest at those hours during the summers of the northern hemisphere. 

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