Science & Tech
Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend

A meteor (top) streaks past stars in the night sky above Lake Geneva and the Mont-Blanc, at the Mont-Tendre near Montricher in the Jura, north of Geneva, late August 10, 2012.



The best meteor shower of the year will fill pre-dawn skies with hundreds of shooting stars Saturday through Monday.

And that's just for starters.

The brightest planets in the solar system are lining up right in the middle of the display.

NASA says the Perseid meteor shower peaks on the nights around August 12.

"We expect to see meteor rates as high as a hundred per hour," Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office says on the space agency's site. "The Perseids always put on a good show."

The best time to view the celestial spectacle is during the dark hours just before dawn, Cooke says.

And to optimize your experience, he suggests heading to the countryside since the lack of city lights will triple the number of meteors you see.

NASA says this year's display is extra special because Jupiter, Venus, and the crescent Moon are gathering together just as the Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak. The alignment occurs in the eastern sky before sunrise on the three mornings of highest meteor activity.

On Monday night, with the shower just beginning to wane, the planets will put on their best show yet: The 17% crescent moon will pass less than three degrees from Venus as Jupiter hovers overhead.

If you witness the showers, NASA would like to hear from you.

"We've developed an app for Android and iPhones to help amateur sky watchers count meteors in a scientific way and report the results to us," says Cooke. "It's called the 'Meteor Counter' and it's available for free in the Android Marketplace and Apple's App Store."

The Perseids are bits of rock and debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle which was discovered in 1862. The comet orbits around the sun once every 133 years, but every August, Earth passes through a cloud of its debris, and as the bits of ice and dust burn up in Earth's atmosphere, they create the meteor shower.

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