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How to watch the Perseids — the best meteor shower of the year

The past few months have delivered several spectacular celestial phenomena, including the rare "super flower blood moon" lunar eclipse, "ring of fire" solar eclipse and a beautiful strawberry supermoon. But now, the year's best meteor shower, Perseids, has arrived, promising to bring spectacular shooting stars to the summer sky. 

Astrophotographers will want to make sure their telescopes and cameras are ready for this epic cosmic event, which delivers incredible photos each year.

What are the Perseids? 

The Perseids are active every year from around July 14 to August 24, according to NASA. The meteor shower peaks in mid-August, peaking this year on August 11, 12 and 13.

Under ideal conditions, skywatchers can expect to see up to 100 meteors per hour — a much higher amount than most other showers. NASA considers it the best shower of the year, and it's always a crowd-pleaser.  

The meteors are very fast and bright, regularly leaving long tails of light and color behind them as they streak across the sky at around 37 miles per second. They are also known for their fireballs, big explosions of bright light and color that last longer than an average meteor streak.  

Perseid meteors, which are leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids, appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus — earning the shower its name. The constellation is not the actual source of the meteors, so viewers do not need to determine its exact location to spot shooting stars. 

Shooting stars over the Alps
The 2018 Perseids meteor shower with the Milky way, taken in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Alps.  Getty Images

The comet responsible for the Perseids is called 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862 by Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle. It orbits the sun once every 133 years, last passing through the inner solar system in 1992.

The comet's nucleus is 16 miles across, which is almost twice the size of the object that scientists believed wiped out the dinosaurs, NASA said. 

When and where to watch the Perseids

The Perseids occur during the warm nights of summer, making them easily visible from around the world, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Meteors will be visible starting in the mid-to-late evening hours, as early as 9 p.m., and continue to get better into the pre-dawn hours, after 2 a.m.

Earlier in the night, skywatchers have the opportunity to spot a rare earthgrazer, a long, slow and colorful meteor moving across the horizon. In the Southern Hemisphere, meteors will begin to appear around midnight.

"If those hours seem daunting, not to worry! You can go out after dark, around 9 p.m. local time, and see a few Perseids," NASA said. "Just know that you won't see nearly as many as you would had you gone out during the early morning hours."

The Perseid meteor shower over the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party
The Perseid meteor shower over the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party, on August 10, 2018, with an aurora as a bonus. VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Weather permitting, NASA recommends finding a place with a clear view of a large swath of the sky. On the peak mornings this year, moonlight won't interfere with the show, with the moon only in its waxing crescent phase and 13% full, guaranteeing the sky remains dark enough to spot shooting stars. 

Lie flat on your back and look up, allowing your eyes several minutes to adjust before taking in as much of the sky as possible for at least an hour. You won't need any special equipment or knowledge of the constellations to see the show. 

The shower's peak isn't your last chance to spot the meteors — they can still be clearly seen for about 10 days after. Additionally, the Southern Delta Aquariid and Alpha Capricornid meteor showers are still active through mid-August, adding to the dazzling light show. 

If you're not in a position to watch the Perseids, there are live streams available. NASA typically live streams the event on its Meteor Watch Facebook page, and the Virtual Telescope Project has a live stream on August 11. 

Following the Perseids, the next meteor shower won't be until October, when the Orionids light up the sky. 

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