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Spectacular Meteor Shower Expected Overnight

BOSTON (CBS) - It promises to be a spectacular show in the sky Thursday night and Friday morning. After the sun goes down we could witness the best meteor shower in years.

It's called the Perseid meteor shower, a once a year event. Last year was good, but it was nothing compared to what's expected Thursday night.

"Last year we had a really fantastic show and it was around 50 meteors per hour. This year we're expecting four times that amount," says Tim Brothers, an astronomer at MIT's Wallace Astrophysical Observatory in Westford.

Beyond The Forecast: How To Watch Meteor Shower

That means there could be as many as 200 meteors per hour. "It should produce a really fantastic show," says Brothers.

Meteor shower
Meteor shower (Image from Jeremy Evans)

The cause of the shower is a comet called Smith-Tuttle. "It's a very large comet, about 16 miles wide, and it passes close enough to earth that it actually crosses our orbit and leaves behind a trail of debris," he says.

That debris is composed of dust and ice and is moving fast. "About 37 miles per second. So they have a lot of energy and when they slam into the atmosphere that's when you get the nice glowing streaks," Brothers says.

The fireballs are often incorrectly called shooting stars, but whatever you call them, they're beautiful. "Even as many times as we've seen it, it never gets old," says Brothers.

We should start seeing the meteors any time after dark, but the peak is expected to be about one in the morning. It might be worth staying up late. The Wallace Observatory is hosting a viewing part of sorts. About 100 people are expected to visit the facility. They all signed up in advance and there's no room left, but Brothers says you don't have to go to an observatory to enjoy the night. "You can go to your backyard, to a baseball field if the lights are off, behind a library. You can actually go to a beach and look out over the ocean away from the city lights and you might actually have a better chance of seeing," he says.

Thanks to Jeremy Evans for his meteor shower video:
Jeremy's YouTube Channel:

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