The Perseid meteors fall every year and make for one of the most dazzling astronomical events of the year...this year, in the pre-dawn skies of August 11-13th.
The meteor shower occurs as the Earth's orbit takes us through the debris of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Earth's gravity pulls in some of the chunks of debris... small rocks comprised of iron-nickel, stone, other minerals or a combination of these — which turn into bright balls of hot gas when entering Earth's atmosphere. As darkness falls, the meteors appear to come from the constellation Perseus, hence the name; although later in the evening, the meteors originate higher in the sky than the constellation.
This year's display is extra special because Jupiter, Venus and the crescent moon align just as the Perseids peak. The alignment occurs in the eastern sky before sunrise on the three mornings of highest meteor activity.
Incredibly, the meteors are typically only the size of pebbles, some as small as a grain of sand. These space rocks are traveling anywhere from 25,000 to 160,000 mph, creating a dazzling "train," or tail, when they burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
At the Perseids' peak, the evening of Aug. 12, viewers can expect to see more than 100 "falling stars" per hour, and, with a waxing crescent moon, there will be little interference from moonshine. Lucky skywatchers may catch sight of a "bolide" -- an exploding meteor that ends in a bright pop of light not unlike a strobe.